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Karl Marx Internet Archive 



The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean 
Philosophy of Nature, 
with an Appendix 



Written: March 1841. 

First Published: 1902. 

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works Volume 1. 

Publisher: Progress Publishers 
Transcription/Markup: Andy Blunden 

Online Version: Brian Basgen Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2000 



Contents: According to Marx's original Table of Contents 

Foreword 6 k 

Part One: Difference between the Democritean and 
Epicurean Philosophy of Nature in General 

44 

I. The Subiect of the Treatise 



II. Opinions on the Relationship Between Democritean and 20 

Epicurean Physics k 



III. Difficulties Concerning the Identity of the Democritean and 44 

Epicurean Philosophy of Nature k 



IV. General Difference in Principle Between the Democritean and Epicurean 
Philosophy of Nature 

V. Result 

Part Two: Difference between the Democritean and 
Epicurean Philosophy of Nature in detail 



Chapter One : The Declination of the Atom from the Straight Line 



Chapter Two : The Qualities of the Atom 

Chapter Three : Atomoi archai and atoma stoicheia 
Chapter Four : Time 
Chapter Five : The Meteors 



20 

k 

13 

k 

13 

k 

9k 

21 

k 



Appendix 

Critique of Plutarch's Polemic against the Theology of Epicurus 
[Fragment from the Appendix] 

Preliminary Note 

I. The Relationship of Man to God 

1 . Fear and the Being Beyond 

2. Cult and the Individual 

3. Providence and the Degraded God 

II. Individual Immortality 

1 . On Religious Feudalism. The Hell of the Populace 

2. The Longing of the Multitude 

3. The Pride of the Elected 

Draft of new Preface 
Editors' Eootnotes and Preface. 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 



[Draft of a New Preface] 



The form of this treatise would have been on the one hand more strictly scientific, on the 
other hand in many of its arguments less pedantic, if its primary purpose had not been 
that of a doctor's dissertation. I am nevertheless constrained by external reasons to send it 
to the press in this form. Moreover I believe that I have solved in it a heretofore unsolved 
problem in the history of Greek philosophy. 

The experts know that no preliminary studies that are even of the slightest use exist for 
the subject of this treatise. What Cicero and Plutarch have babbled has been babbled after 
them up to the present day. Gassendi, who freed Epicurus from the interdict which the 
Eathers of the Church and the whole Middle Ages, the period of realised unreason, had 
placed upon him, presents in his expositions EAL only one interesting element. He seeks to 
accommodate his Catholic conscience to his pagan knowledge and Epicurus to the 
Church, which certainly was wasted effort. It is as though one wanted to throw the habit 
of a Christian nun over the bright and flourishing body of the Greek Lais. It is rather that 
Gassendi learns philosophy from Epicurus than that he could teach us about Epicurus' 
philosophy. 

This treatise is to be regarded only as the preliminary to a larger work in which I shall 
present in detail the cycle of Epicurean, Stoic and Sceptic philosophy in their relation to 
the whole of Greek speculation. Uhl The shortcomings of this treatise, in form and the 
like, will be eliminated in that later work. 

To be sure, Hegel has on the whole correctly defined the general aspects of the 
above-mentioned systems. But in the admirably great and bold plan of his history of 
philosophy, from which alone the history of philosophy can in general be dated, it was 
impossible, on the one hand, to go into detail, and on the other hand, the giant thinker 
was hindered by his view of what he called speculative thought par excellence from 
recognising in these systems their great importance for the history of Greek philosophy 
and for the Greek mind in general. These systems are the key to the true history of Greek 
philosophy. A more profound indication of their connection with Greek life can be found 
in the essay of my friend Koppen, Friedrich der Grosse und seine Widersacher. ETl 

If a critique of Plutarch's polemic against Epicurus' theology has been added as an 
appendix, this is because this polemic is by no means isolated, but rather representative of 
an espece, [species - Ed.] in that it most strikingly presents in itself the relation of the 



theologising intellect to philosophy. 

The critique does not touch, among other things, on the general falsity of Plutarch's 
standpoint when he brings philosophy before the forum of religion. In this respect it will 
be enough to cite, in place of all argument, a passage from David Hume: 

“... 'Tis certainly a kind of indignity to philosophy, whose sovereign authority ought 
everywhere to be acknowledged, to oblige her on every occasion to make apologies for 
her conclusions which may be offended at her. This puts one in mind of a king arraign'd 
for high treason against his subjects T HKL 

Philosophy, as long as a drop of blood shall pulse in its world-subduing and absolutely 
free heart, will never grow tired of answering its adversaries with the cry of Epicurus: 

Not the man who denies the gods worshipped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the 
gods what the multitude believes about them, is truly impious. 

Philosophy makes no secret of it. The confession of Prometheus: 

In simple words, I hate the pack of gods 
[Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound] 

is its own confession, its own aphorism against all heavenly and earthly gods who do not 
acknowledge human self-consciousness as the highest divinity. It will have none other 
beside. 

But to those poor March hares who rejoice over the apparently worsened civil position of 
philosophy, it responds again, as Prometheus replied to the servant of the gods, Hermes: 

Be sure of this, I would not change my state 
Of evil fortune for your servitude. 

Better to be the servant of this rock 
Than to be faithful boy to Father Zeus. 

(Ibid.) 

Prometheus is the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar. 

Berlin, March 1841 



Chapter 1 : Subject of the Treatise 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 

Part One: Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature in 

General 



The Subject of the Treatise 



Greek philosophy seems to have met with something with which a good tragedy is not 
supposed to meet, namely, a dull ending. The objective history of philosophy in Greece 
seems to come to an end with Aristotle, Greek philosophy's Alexander of Macedon, and 
even the manly-strong Stoics did not succeed in what the Spartans did accomplish in their 
temples, the chaining of Athena to Heracles so that she could not flee. 

Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics are regarded as an almost improper addition bearing no 
relation to its powerful premises. Epicurean philosophy is taken as a syncretic 
combination of Democritean physics and Cyrenaic morality; Stoicism as a compound of 
Heraclitean speculation on nature and the Cynical-ethical view of the world, together 
with some Aristotelean logic; and finally Scepticism as the necessary evil confronting 
these dogmatisms. These philosophies are thus unconsciously linked to the Alexandrian 
philosophy by being made into a one-sided and tendentious eclecticism. The Alexandrian 
philosophy is finally regarded entirely as exaltation and derangement-a confusion in 
which at most the universality of the intention can be recognised. 

To be sure, it is a commonplace that birth, flowering and decline constitute the iron circle 
in which everything human is enclosed, through which it must pass. Thus it would not 
have been surprising if Greek philosophy, after having reached its zenith in Aristotle, 
should then have withered. But the death of the hero resembles the setting of the sun, not 
the bursting of an inflated frog. 

And then: birth, flowering and decline are very general, very vague notions under which, 
to be sure, everything can be arranged, but through which nothing can be understood. 
Decay itself is prefigured in the living; its shape should therefore be just as much grasped 
in its specific characteristic as the shape of life. Einally, when we glance at history, are 
Epicureanism, Stoicism and Scepticism particular phenomena? Are they not the 
prototypes of the Roman mind, the shape in which Greece wandered to Rome? Is not 
their essence so full of character, so intense and eternal that the modem world itself has 
to admit them to full spiritual citizenship? 



I lay stress on this only in order to call to mind the historical importance of these systems. 
Here, however, we are not at all concerned with their significance for culture in general. 






but with their connection with the older Greek philosophy. 



Should not this relationship urge us at least to an inquiry, to see Greek philosophy ending 
up with two different groups of eclectic systems, one of them the cycle of Epicurean, 
Stoic and Sceptic philosophy, the other being classified under the collective name of 
Alexandrian speculation? Furthermore, is it not remarkable that after the Platonic and 
Aristotelean philosophies, which are universal in range, there appear new systems which 
do not lean on these rich intellectual forms, but look farther back and have recourse to the 
simplest schools-to the philosophers of nature in regard to physics, to the Socratic school 
in regard to ethics? Moreover, what is the reason why the systems that follow after 
Aristotle find their foundations as it were ready made in the past, why Democritus is 
linked to the Cyrenaics and Heraclitus to the Cynics? Is it an accident that with the 
Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics all moments of self-consciousness are represented 
completely, but every moment as a particular existence? Is it an accident that these 
systems in their totality form the complete structure of self-consciousness? And finally, 
the character with which Greek philosophy mythically begins in the seven wise men, and 
which is, so to say as its central point, embodied in Socrates as its demiurge — I mean 
the character of the wise man, of the sophos — is it an accident that it is asserted in those 
systems as the reality of true science? 

It seems to me that though the earlier systems are more significant and interesting for the 
content, the post-Aristotelean ones, and primarily the cycle of the Epicurean, Stoic and 
Sceptic schools, are more significant and interesting for the subjective form, the character 
of Greek philosophy. But it is precisely the subjective form, the spiritual carrier of the 
philosophical systems, which has until now been almost entirely ignored in favour of 
their metaphysical characteristics. 

I shall save for a more extensive discussion the presentation of the Epicurean, Stoic and 
Sceptic philosophies as a whole and in their total relationship to earlier and later Greek 
speculation. 

Let it suffice here to develop this relationship as it were by an example, and only in one 
aspect, namely, their relationship to earlier speculation. 

As such an example I select the relationship between the Epicurean and the Democritean 
philosophy of nature. I do not believe that it is the most convenient point of contact. 
Indeed, on the one hand it is an old and entrenched prejudice to identify Democritean and 
Epicurean physics, so that Epicurus' modifications are seen as only arbitrary vagaries. On 
the other hand I am forced to go into what seem to be microscopic examinations as far as 
details are concerned. But precisely because this prejudice is as old as the history of 
philosophy, because the differences are so concealed that they can be discovered as it 
were only with a microscope, it will be all the more important if, despite the 
interdependence of Democritean and Epicurean physics, an essential difference extending 
to the smallest details can be demonstrated. What can be demonstrated in the small can 




even more easily be shown where the relations are considered in larger dimensions, while 
conversely very general considerations leave doubt whether the result will hold when 
applied to details. 



II: Opinions on the Relationship between Democritean and Epicurean Physics 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 

Part One: Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature in 

General 



Opinions on the Relationship between Democritean and 
Epicurean Physics 



The way in which my general outlook is related to earlier points of view will become 
quite obvious if a brief review is made of the opinions held by the ancient authors 
concerning the relationship between Democritean and Epicurean physics. 

Posidonius the Stoic, Nicolaus and Sotion reproach Epicurus for having presented the 
Democritean doctrine of atoms and Aristippus' teaching on pleasure as his own. fid Cotta 
the Academician asks in Cicero: “What is there in Epicurus' physics which does not 
belong to Democritus? True, he modifies some details, but most of it he repeats after 
him.”f2} Cicero himself says similarly: 

“In physics, where he is the most pretentious, Epicurus is a perfect stranger. Most of it 
belongs to Democritus; where he deviates from him, where he endeavours to improve, he 
spoils and worsens it. ”(3) 

Although many authors reproach Epicurus for aspersions against Democritus, Leonteus, 
according to Plutarch, affirms on the contrary that Epicurus honoured Democritus 
because the latter had adhered to the true doctrine before him, because he had discovered 
the principles of nature earlier.Cl In the essay De placitis philosophorum Epicurus is 
called one who philosophises after the manner of Democritus. fd) Plutarch in his Colotes 
goes further. Successively comparing Epicurus with Democritus, Empedocles, 
Parmenides, Plato, Socrates, Stilpo, the Cyrenaics and the Academicians, he seeks to 
prove that “Epicurus appropriated from the whole of Greek philosophy the false and did 
not understand the true”.f^ Likewise the treatise De eo, quod secundum Epicurum non 
beats vivi possit teems with inimical insinuations of a similar kind. 

In the Eathers of the Church we find this unfavourable opinion, held by the more ancient 
authors, maintained. In the note I quote only one passage from Clement of Alexandria,!?! 
a Eather of the Church who deserves to be prominently mentioned with regard to 
Epicurus, since he reinterprets the warning of the apostle Paul against philosophy in 
general into a warning against Epicurean philosophy, as one which did not even once 
spin fantasies concerning providence and the like.f^ But how common was the tendency 



to accuse Epicurus of plagiarism is shown most strikingly by Sextus Empiricus, who 
wishes to turn some quite inappropriate passages from Homer and Epicharmus into 
principal sources of Epicurean philosophy 

It is well known that the more recent writers by and large make Epicurus, insofar as he 
was a philosopher of nature, a mere plagiarist of Democritus. The following statement of 
Leibniz may here represent their opinion in general: 

“Of this great man” (Democritus) “we scarcely know anything but what Epicurus 
borrowed from him, and Epicurus was not capable of always taking the best.”fhh 

Thus while Cicero says that Epicurus worsened the Democritean doctrine, at the same 
time crediting him at least with the will to improve it and with having an eye for its 
defects, while Plutarch ascribes to him inconsistency^Tiland a predisposition toward the 
inferior, hence also casts suspicion on his intentions, Leibniz denies him even the ability 
to make excerpts from Democritus skilfully. 

But all agree that Epicurus borrowed his physics from Democritus. 



ITT: Difficulties Concerning the Identity Of the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of 
Nature 



fil Diogenes Laertius, X, 4. They are followed by Posidonius the Stoic and his school, 
and Nicolaus and Sotion ... [allege that] he (Epicurus) put forward as his own the 
doctrines of Democritus about atoms and of Aristippus about pleasure. 

121 Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, I, xxvi [73]. What is there in Epicurus' natural 
philosophy that does not come from Democritus? Since even if he introduced sonar 
alterations ... yet most of his system is the same.... 

G1 Id., On the Highest Goods and Evils, 1, vi [21]. Thus where Epicurus alters the 
doctrines of Democritus, he alters them for the worse; while for those ideas which he 
adopts, the credit belongs entirely to Democritus.... 

Ibid. [17, 18] ... the subject of Natural Philosophy, which is Epicurus' particular boast. 
Here, in the first place, he is entirely second-hand. His doctrines are those of Democritus, 
with a very few modifications. And as for the latter, where he attempts to improve upon 
his original, in my opinion he only succeeds in making things worse.... Epicurus for his 
part, where he follows Democritus, does not generally blunder. 

Plutarch, Reply to Colotes (published by Xylander), 1108. Leonteus ... writes ... that 



Democritus was honoured by Epicurus for having reached the correct approach to 
knowledge before him ... because Democritus had first hit upon the first principles of 
natural philosophy. Comp, ibid., 1111. 

(Id.,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, V, 235, published by Tauchnitz. 

Epicurus, the son of Neocles, from Athens, who philosophised according to 
Democritus.... 

Reply to Colotes, 1111, 1112, 1114, 1115, 1117, 1119, 1120 seqq. 

Cl Clement of Alexandria, The Miscellanies, Vi, p. 629, Cologne edition [2]. Epicurus 
also has pilfered his leading dogmas from Democritus. 

Cl Ibid., p. 295 [I, 11]. "Beware lest any man despoil you through philosophy and vain 
deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world and not after Christ" 

[Col. ii, 8] branding not all philosophy, but the Epicurean, which Paul mentions in the 
Acts of the Apostles [Acts xvii, 181, which abolishes providence ... and whatever other 
philosophy honours the elements, but places not over them the efficient cause, nor 
apprehends the Creator. 

Cl Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors (Geneva edition) [I, 273]. Epicurus has been 
detected as guilty of having filched the best of his dogmas from the poets. Eor he has 
been shown to have taken his definition of the intensity of pleasures,- that it is "the 
removal of everything painful"-from this one verse: 

"When they had now put aside all longing for drinking and eating." [Homer, Iliad, I, 469] 

And as to death, that "it is nothing to us", Epicharmus had already pointed this out to him 
when he said, 

"To die or to he dead concerns me not." 

So, too, he stole the notion that dead bodies have no feeling from Homer, where he 
writes, 

"This dumb day that he beats with abuse in his violent fury." [Ibid., XXIV, 54] 

fhh Letter of Leibniz to Mr. Des Maizeaux, containing [some] clarifications.... [Opera 
omnia,] ed. L. Dutens, Vol. 2, p[p]. 66[-67]. 

fill Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1111. Democritus is therefore to be censured not for 
admitting the consequences that flow from his principles, but for setting up principles that 
lead to these consequences.... If "does not say" means "does not admit it is so", he is 
following his familiar practice; thus he (Epicurus) does away with providence but says he 
has left us with piety; he chooses friends for the pleasure he gets, but says that he 
assumes the greatest pains on their behalf; and he says that while he posits an infinite 



universe he does not eliminate "up" and "down". 



The translation of Latin and Greek texts follows, when possible, that of the Classical 
Library. The translation differs in details from the text in the dissertation, which is the 
English translation of Marx's text, and therefore also of Marx's German translation of the 
Latin and Greek texts.- Ed. 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 



Difficulties Concerning the Identity Of the Democritean 
and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 



Apart from historical testimony, there is much other evidence for the identity of 
Democritean and Epicurean physics. The principles — atoms and the void — are 
indisputably the same. Only in isolated cases does there seem to be arbitrary, hence 
unessential, difference. 

However, a curious and insoluble riddle remains. Two philosophers teach exactly the 
same science, in exactly the same way, but — how inconsistent! — they stand 
diametrically opposed in all that concerns truth, certainty, application of this science, and 
all that refers to the relationship between thought and reality in general. I say that they 
stand diametrically opposed, and I shall now try to prove it. 

A. The opinion of Democritus concerning the truth and certainty of human knowledge 
seems hard to ascertain. Contradictory passages are to be found, or rather it is not the 
passages, but Democritus' views that contradict each other. Eor Trendelenburg's assertion 
in his commentary to Aristotelean psychology, that only later authors, but not Aristotle, 
knew of such contradictions, is factually incorrect. Indeed, in Aristotle's Psychology it is 
stated: “Democritus posits soul and mind {Verstand] as one and the same, since the 
phenomenon is the true thing.” But in his Metaphysics he writes: “Democritus asserts 
that nothing is true or it is concealed from us.” ^ Are not these passages of Aristotle 
contradictory? If the phenomenon is the true thing, how can the true thing be concealed? 
The concealment begins only when phenomenon and truth separate. But Diogenes 
Laertius reports that Democritus was counted among the Sceptics. His saying is quoted: 
“In reality we know nothing, for truth lies at the deep bottom of the well.” ^ Similar 
statements are found in Sextus Empiricus. 

This sceptical, uncertain and internally self-contradictory view held by Democritus is 
only further developed in the way in which the relationship between the atom and the 
world which is apparent to the senses is determined. 

Sensuous appearance, on the one hand, does not belong to the atoms themselves. It is not 
objective appearance, but subjective semblance {Schein^. “The true principles are the 
atoms and the void, everything else is opinion, semblance.” ^ “Cold exists only 
according to opinion, heat exists only according to opinion, but in reality there are only 



the atoms and the void.” Unity therefore does not truly result from the many atoms, 
but rather “through the combination of atoms each thing appears to become a unity". (21 
The principles can therefore be perceived only through reason, since they are inaccessible 
to the sensuous eye if only because of their smallness. For this reason they are even 
called ideas. (§i The sensuous appearance is, on the other hand, the only true object, and 
the aisthesis [sensuous perception] is the phronesis [that which is rational]; this true thing 
however is the changing, the unstable, the phenomenon. But to say that the phenomenon 
is the true thing is contradictory. (^ Thus now the one, now the other side is made the 
subjective and the objective. The contradiction therefore seems to be held apart, being 
divided between two worlds. Consequently, Democritus makes sensuous reality into 
subjective semblance; but the antinomy, banned from the world of objects, now exists in 
his own self-consciousness, where the concept of the atom and sensuous perception face 
each other as enemies. 

Thus Democritus does not escape the antinomy. This is not yet the place to explain it. It 
is enough that we cannot deny its existence. 

Now let us listen to Epicurus. 

The wise man, he says, takes a dogmatic, not a sceptical position. (hH Yes, exactly this 
makes him superior to all the others, that he knows with conviction. (iU “All senses are 
heralds of the true.” (U1 ‘Wor is there anything which can refute sensations, neither like 
can refute like, because of their equal validity, nor can unlike refute unlike, because they 
do not pass judgment on the same thing, nor the concept, because the concept depends on 
the sensuous perceptions,” (13) 

as it says in the Canon. But while Democritus turns the 
sensuous world into subjective semblance, Epicurus turns it into objective appearance. 
And here he differs quite consciously, since he claims that he shares the same principles 
but that he does not reduce the sensuous qualities to things of mere opinion. (U2 

Since therefore sensation was in fact Epicurus' standard, since objective appearance 
corresponds to it: then we can only regard as a correct, conclusion that at which Cicero 
shrugs his shoulder: 

“The sun seems large to Democritus, because he is a man of science well versed in 
geometry; to Epicurus it seems to be about two feet large, for he pronounces it as large as 
it seems. (i^ 

B. This difference in the theoretical judgments of Democritus and Epicurus concerning 
the certainty of science and the truth of its objects manifests itself in the disparate 
scientific energy and practice of these men. 

Democritus, for whom the principle does not enter into the appearance, remains without 
reality and existence, is faced on the other hand with the world of sensation as the real 
world, full of content. True, this world is subjective semblance, but just because of this it 



is torn away from the principle, left in its own independent reality. At the same time it is 
the unique real object and as such has value and significance. Democritus is therefore 
driven into empirical observation. Dissatisfied with philosophy, he throws himself into 
the arms of positive knowledge. We have already seen that Cicero calls him a vir eruditus 
[Man of Science]. He is versed in physics, ethics, mathematics, in the encyclopedic 
disciplines, in every art. Hh) The catalogue alone of his books given by Diogenes Laertius 
bears witness to his erudition. fH) But since it is the characteristic trait of erudition to 
expand in breadth and to collect and to search on the outside, we see Democritus 
wandering through half the world in order to acquire experiences, knowledge and 
observations. 

“I have among my contemporaries,” he prides himself, “wandered through the largest 
part of the earth, investigating the remotest things. I have seen most climates and lands, 
and I have heard most learned men, and in linear composition with demonstration no one 
surpassed me, not even the so-called Arsipedonapts of the Egyptians;” 

Demetrius in the Homonymois {Men of the Same Name] and Antisthenes in the 
Diadochais {Successions of Philosophers] report that he travelled to Egypt to the priests 
in order to learn geometry, and to the Chaldeans in Persia, and that he reached the Red 
Sea. Some maintain that he also met the gymnosophists 1^ in India and set foot in 
Ethiopia. On the one hand it is the lust for knowledge that leaves him no rest; but it is 
at the same time dissatisfaction with true, i. e., philosophical, knowledge that drives him 
far abroad. The knowledge which he considers true is without content, the knowledge 
that gives him content is without truth. It could he a fable, but a true fable, that anecdote 
of the ancients, since it gives a picture of the contradictory elements in his being. 
Democritus is supposed to have blinded himself so that the sensuous light of the eye 
would not darken the sharpness of intellect. 12Q1 This is the same man who, according to 
Cicero, wandered through half the world. But he did not find what he was looking for. 

An opposite figure appears to us in Epicurus. 

Epicurus is satisfied and blissful in philosophy. 

“You must,” he says, “serve philosophy so that true freedom will he your lot. He who has 
subordinated and surrendered himself to it does not need to wait, he is emancipated at 
once. Eor to serve philosophy is freedom itself. Consequently he teaches: “Let no one 
when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old grow weary of his study. Eor 
no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who 
says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man 
who savs that the age for happiness is not yet come to him, or has passed away.” ^2^ 

While Democritus, dissatisfied with philosophy, throws himself into the arms of 
empirical knowledge, Epicurus has nothing but contempt for the positive sciences, since 
in his opinion they contribute nothing to true perfection. 1231 He is called an enemy of 



science, a scomer of grammar. He is even accused of ignorance. “But,” says an 
Epicurean in Cicero, “it was not Epicurus who was without erudition, but those are 
ignorant who believe that what is shameful for a boy not to know ought still to be recited 
by the old man. (2^ 

But while Democritus seeks to learn from Egyptian priests, Persian Chaldeans and Indian 
gymno sophists, Epicurus prides himself on not having had a teacher, on being 
self-taught. There are some people, he says according to Seneca, who struggle for 
truth without any assistance. Among these people he has himself traced out his path. And 
it is they, the self-taught, whom he praises most. The others, according to him, are 
second-rate minds. ^221 While Democritus is driven into all parts of the world, Epicurus 
leaves his garden in Athens scarcely two or three times and travels to Ionia, not to engage 
in studies, but to visit friends. Einally, while Democritus, despairing of acquiring 
knowledge, blinds himself, Epicurus, feeling the hour of death approaching, takes a warm 
bath, calls for pure wine and recommends to his friends that they be faithful to 
philosophy. 129} 

C. The differences that we have just set forth should not be attributed to the accidental 
individuality of the two philosophers; they embody two opposite tendencies. We see as a 
difference of practical energy that which is expressed in the passages above as a 
difference of theoretical consciousness. 

We consider finally the form of reflection which expresses the relation of thought to 
being, their mutual relationship. In the general relationship which the philosopher sees 
between the world and thought, he merely makes objective for himself the relation of his 
own particular consciousness to the real world. 

Now Democritus uses necessity as a form of reflection of reality. ^20) Aristotle says of 
him that he traces everything back to necessity. Diogenes Laertius reports that the 
vortex of atoms, the origin of all, is the Democritean necessity. 1^21 More satisfactory 
explanations are given by the author of De placitis philosophorum: 

Necessity is, according to Democritus, fate and law, providence and the creator of the 
world. But the substance of this necessity is the antitype and the movement and impulse 
of matter. 

A similar passage is to be found in the Physical Selections of Stobaeus and in the 
sixth book of the Praeparatio evangelica of Eusebius. In the Ethical Selections of 
Stobaeus the following aphorism of Democritus is preserved — it is almost exactly 
repeated in the 14th book of Eusebius ^221; human beings like to create for themselves the 
illusion of chance — a manifestation of their own perplexity, since chance [Zufall] is 
incompatible with sound thinking. Simplicius similarly attributes to Democritus a passage 
in which Aristotle speaks of the ancient doctrine that does away with chance. m 



Contrast this with Epicurus: 



“Necessity, introduced b by some as the absolute ruler, does not exist, but some things are 
accidental, others depend on our arbitrary will. Necessity cannot be persuaded, but 
chance is unstable. It would be better to follow the myth about the gods than to be a slave 
to the heimarinene [what has been decreed, destiny] of the physicists. For the former 
leaves hope for mercy if we do honour to the gods, while the latter is inexorable 
necessity. But it is chance, which must be accepted, not God, as the multitude believe.” 
^29) “It is a misfortune to live in necessity, but to live in necessity is not a necessity. On 
all sides many short and easy paths to freedom are open. Let us therefore thank God that 
no man can he kept in life. It is permitted to subdue necessity itself.” 

The Epicurean Velleius in Cicero says something similar about Stoic philosophy: 

"What are we to think of a philosophy in which, as to ignorant old women, everything 
seems to occur through fate? ... by Epicurus we have been redeemed, set free.” 

Thus Epicurus even denies disjunctive judgment so as not to have to acknowledge any 
concept of necessity. 

True, it is claimed that Democritus also used the concept of chance, but of the two 
passages on this matter which can be found in Simplicius the one renders the other 
suspect, because it shows clearly that it was not Democritus who used the category of 
chance, but Simplicius who ascribed it to him as a consequence. For he says: Democritus 
assigns, generally speaking, no cause for the creation of the world, he seems therefore to 
make chance the cause. Here, however, we are concerned not with the determination of 
the content, but with th& form used consciously by Democritus. The situation is similar in 
regard to the report by Eusebius that Democritus made chance the ruler of the universal 
and divine and claimed that here it is through chance that everything happens, whereas he 
excluded chance from human life and empirical nature and called its supporters foolish. 
(Ml 

In part, we see in these statements only a desire of the Christian bishop Dionysius for 
conclusion-forcing. In part, where the universal and divine begin, the Democritean 
concept of necessity ceases to differ from chance. 

Hence, this much is historically certain: Democritus makes use of necessity, Epicurus of 
chance. And each of them rejects the opposite view with polemical irritation. 

The principal consequence of this difference appears in the way individual physical 
phenomena are explained. 

Necessity appears in finite nature as relative necessity, as determinism. Relative necessity 
can only be deduced from real possibility, i.e., it is a network of conditions, reasons, 
causes, etc., by means of which this necessity reveals itself. Real possibility is the 



explication of relative necessity. And we find it used by Democritus. We cite some 
passages from Simplicius. 

If somebody is thirsty and drinks and feels better, Democritus will not assign chance as 
the cause, but thirst. For, even though he seems to use chance in regard to the creation of 
the world, yet he maintains that chance is not the cause of any particular event, but on the 
contrary leads back to other causes. Thus, for example, digging is the cause of a treasure 
being found, or growing the cause of the olive tree. (4^ 

The enthusiasm and the seriousness with which Democritus .introduces this manner of 
explanation into the observation of nature, the importance he attaches to the striving to 
ascertain causes, are naively ] expressed in his avowal: 

“I would rather discover a new aetiology than acquire the Persian crown.” 

Once again Epicurus stands directly opposed to Democritus. Chance, for him, is a reality 
which has only the value of possibility. Abstract possibility, however, is the direct 
antipode of real possibility. The latter is restricted within sharp boundaries, as is the 
intellect; the former is unbounded, as is the imagination. Real possibility seeks to explain 
the necessity and reality of its object; abstract possibility is not interested in the object 
which is explained, but in the subject which does the explaining. The object need only be 
possible, conceivable. That which is abstractly possible, which can be conceived, 
constitutes no obstacle to the thinking subject, no limit, no stumbling-block. Whether this 
possibility is also real is irrelevant, since here the interest does not extend to the object as 
object. 

Epicurus therefore proceeds with a boundless nonchalance in the explanation of separate 
physical phenomena. 

More light will be thrown upon this fact by the letter to Pythocles, later to be considered. 
Suffice it here to draw attention to Epicurus' attitude to the opinions of earlier physicists. 
Where the author of De Placitis philosophorum and Stobaeus quote the different views of 
the philosophers concerning the substance of the stars, the size and shape of the sun and 
similar matters, it is always said of Epicurus: He rejects none of these opinions, all could 
be right, he adheres to the possible. Yes, Epicurus polemicises even against the 
rationally determining, and for precisely this reason one-sided, method of explanation by 
real possibility. 

Thus Seneca says in his Quaestiones naturales: Epicurus maintains that all these causes 
are possible, and then attempts in addition still other explanations. He blames those who 
claim that any particular one of them occurs, because it is rash to judge apodictically 
about that which can only be deduced from conjectures. 

One can see that there is no interest in investigating the real causes of objects. All that 
matters is the tranquillity of the explaining subject. Since everything possible is admitted 



as possible, which corresponds to the character of abstract possibility, the chance of being 
is clearly transferred only into the chance of thought. The only rule which Epicurus 
prescribes, namely, that “the explanation should not contradict sensation", is self-evident; 
for to be abstractly possible consists precisely in being free from contradiction, which 
therefore must be avoided. And Epicurus confesses finally that his method of 
explaining aims only at the ataraxy 1^ of self-consciousness, not at knowledge of nature 
in and for itself it requires no further clarification to show how in this matter, too, 

Epicurus differs from Democritus. 

We thus see that the two men are opposed to each other at every single step. The one is a 
sceptic, the other a dogmatist; the one considers the sensuous world as subjective 
semblance, the other as objective appearance. He who considers the sensuous world as 
subjective semblance applies himself to empirical natural science and to positive 
knowledge, and represents the unrest of observation, experimenting, learning 
everywhere, ranging over the wide, wide world. The other, who considers the 
phenomenal world to be real, scorns empiricism; embodied in him are the serenity of 
thought satisfied in itself, the self-sufficiency that draws its knowledge ex principio 
interno. But the contradiction goes still farther. The sceptic and empiricist, who holds 
sensuous nature to be subjective semblance, considers it from the point of view of 
necessity and endeavours to explain and to understand the real existence of things. The 
philosopher and dogmatist, on the other hand, who considers appearance to be real, sees 
everywhere only chance, and his method of explanation tends rather to negate all 
objective reality of nature. There seems to be a certain absurdity in these contradictions. 

It hardly seems still possible to presume that these men, who contradict each other on all 
points, will adhere to one and the same doctrine. And yet they seem to be chained to each 
other. 

The task of the next section is to comprehend their relationship in general. 1^ 



Part II, Chapter One: The Declination of the Atom from the Straight Line 



HI Aristotle, On the Soul, 1, p. 8 (published by Trendelenburg) [2, 404 (Homer, Iliad I, 
469), 27-291. Democritus roundly identifies soul and mind, for he identifies what appears 
with what is true. 

121 Id., Metaphysics, IV, 5 [1009, (Homer Iliad XXIV, 54) 11-181. And this is why 
Democritus, at any rate, says that either there is no truth or to us at least it is not evident. 
And in general it is because they [i.e., these thinkers] suppose knowledge to he sensation, 
and this to be a physical alteration, that they say that what appears to our senses must be 



true; for it is for these reasons that both Empedocles and Democritus and, one may almost 
say, all the others have fallen victims to opinions of this sort. For Empedocles says that 
when men change their condition they change their knowledge. 

By the way, the contradiction is expressed in this passage of the Metaphysics itself. 

121 Diogenes Laertius, IX, 72. Furthermore, they find Xenophanes, Zeno of Elea, and 
Democritus to be sceptics.... Democritus [says:] “Of a truth we know nothing, for truth is 
in a well." 

Comp. Ritter, History of Ancient Philosophy [in German], Part I, pp. 579 seqq. [2nd 
improved edition, 1836, pp. 619 seqq.] 

^21 Diogenes Laertius. IX, 44. His (Democritus') opinions are these: The first principles of 
the universe are atoms and empty space; everything else is merely thought to exist. 

lO Ibid., IX, 72. Democritus rejects qualities, saying: “Opinion says hot or cold, but the 
reality is atoms and empty space." 

Cl Simplicius, Scholia to Aristotle (collected by Brandis), p. 488. ... yet he (Democritus) 
does not really allow one being to be formed out of them, for it is quite foolish, he says, 
that two or more become one. 

P. 5 14. [...] and therefore they (Democritus and Leucippus) said that neither the one 
becomes many nor do the many become the truly inseparable one but through the 
combination of atoms each thing appears to become a unity. 

Cl Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1111. The atoms, which he (Democritus) calls "ideas 

Cl Comp. Aristotle, 1. c. 

fhh Diogenes Laertius, X, 121. He [the wise man] will be a dogmatist but not a mere 
sceptic. 

Cfl Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1117. For it is one of Epicurus' tenets that none but the 
sage is unalterably convinced of anything. 

C21 Cicero, One the Nature of the Gods, I, xxv [701. He (Epicurus) therefore said that all 
the semes give a true report. 

Comp, id.. On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vii. 

(Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, IV, p. 287 [81. Epicurus holds that 
every impression and every phantasy is true. 

fI21 Diogenes Laertius, X, 31. Now in The Canon Epicurus affirms that our sensations 
and preconceptions and our feelings are the standards of truth.... 32. Nor is there anything 



which can refute sensations or convict them of error: one sensation cannot convict 
another and kindred sensation, for they are equally valid; nor can one sensation refute 
another which is not kindred but heterogeneous, for the objects which the two senses 
judge are not the same; nor again can reason refute them, for reason is wholly dependent 
on sensation. 

fMl Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1. c. [1 1 10-1 1 1 1 1. He [Colotes] says that Democritus' 
words “colour is by convention, sweet by convention, a compound by convention", and 
so the rest, “what is real are the void and the atoms", are an attack on the senses.... I 
cannot deny the truth of this, but 1 can affirm that this view is as inseparable from 
Epicurus' theories as shape and weight are by their own assertion inseparable from the 
atom. For what does Demacritus say? That entities infinite in number, indivisible and 
indestructible, destitute moreover of quality, and incapable of modification, move 
scattered about in the void; that when they draw near one another or collide or become 
entangled the resulting aggregate appears in the one case to be water, in others fire, a 
plant, or a man, but that everything really is the indivisible “forms", as he calls them [or: 
atoms, “ideas", as he calls them], and nothing else. For there is no generation from the 
non-existent, and again nothing can be generated from the existent, as the atoms are too 
solid to be affected and changed. From this it follows that there is no colour, since it 
would have to come from things colourless, and no natural entity or mind, since they 
would have to come from things without qualities.... Democritus is therefore to he 
censured, not for admitting the consequences that flow from his principles, but for setting 
up principles that lead to these consequences.... Epicurus claims to lay down the same 
first principles, but nevertheless does not say that "colour is by convention", and so with 
the qualities [ sweet, bitter] and the rest. 

Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, 1, vi. Democritus, being an educated man 
and well versed in geometry, thinks the sun is of vast size; Epicurus considers it perhaps 
two feet in diameter, for he pronounces it to be exactly as large as it appears. Comp. 
(Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, II, p. 265. 

Diogenes Laertius, IX, 37. [And truly Democritus] had trained himself both in 
physics and in ethics, nay more, in mathematics and the routine subjects of education, 
and was quite an expert in the arts. 

H71 Comp. Diogenes Laertius, [IX,] 46[-49]. 

Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, X, p. 472. And somewhere he (Democritus) 
says proudly about himself: “I have wandered through a larger part of the earth than any 
of my contemporaries, investigating the remotest things, and I have seen most climates 
and lands, and I have heard the most learned men, and in linear composition with 
demonstration no one surpassed me, not even the so-called Arsipedonapts of the 
Egyptians, whose guest I was when already turning eighty.” For he went as far as 
Babylon and Persia and Egypt, where he also studied with the Egyptian priests. 



Diogenes Laertius, IX, 35. According to Demetrius in his book on Men of the Same 
Name and Antisthenes in his Successions of Philosophers he (Democritus) travelled into 
Egypt to learn geometry from the priests, and he also went into Persia to visit the 
Chaidaeans as well as to the Red Sea. Some say that he associated with the 
gymno sophists in India and went to Aethiopia. 

Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V, 39. When Democritus lost his sight.... And this 
man believed that the sight of the eyes was an obstacle to the piercing vision of the soul, 
and whilst others often failed to see what lay at their feet, he ranged freely into the 
infinite without finding any boundary that brought him to a halt. 

Id, On the Highest Goods and Evils, V, xxix [87]. It is related of Democidtus that he 
deprived himself of eyesight; and it is certain that [he did so] in order that his mind 
should be distracted as little as Possible from reflection. 

Luc. Ann. Seneca, Works, II, p. 24, Amsterdam, 1672, Epistle VIII. I am still conning 
Epicurus ... If you would enjoy real freedom, you must be the slave of Philosophy.” The 
man who submits and surrenders himself to her is not kept waiting; he is emancipated on 
the spot. Eor the very service of Philosophy is freedom. 

122) Diogenes Laertius, X, 122. Let no one he slow to seek wisdom when he is young nor 
weary in the search thereof when he is grown old. Eor no age is too early or too late for 
the health of the soul. And to say that the season for studying philosophy has not yet 
come, or that it is past and gone, is like saying that the season for happiness is not yet or 
that it is now no more. Therefore, both old and young ought to seek wisdom, the former 
in order that, as age comes over him, he may be young in good things because of the 
grace of what has been, and the latter in order that, while he is young, he may at the same 
time be old, because he has no fear of the things which are to come. Comp. Clement of 
Alexandria, IV, 501. 

^2^ Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, I, 1. The case against the mathematici [or: 
Professors of Arts and Sciences] has been set forth in a general way, it would seem, both 
by Epicurus and by the School of Pyrrho, although the standpoints they adopt are 
different. Epicurus took the ground that the subjects taught are of no help in perfecting 
wisdom.... 

^24) Ibid., p. 1 1 [I, 491. And amongst them we must place Epicurus, although he seems to 
be bitterly hostile to the Professors of Arts and Sciences. 

Ibid., p. 54 [I, 2721. ... those accusers of grammar, Pyrrho, and Epicurus.... 

Comp. Plutarch, That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible, 1094. 

12^ Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, xxi [721. No! Epicurus was not 
uneducated: the real ignoramuses are those who ask us to go on studying till old age the 



subjects that we ought to be ashamed not to have learnt in boyhood. 



Diogenes Laertius, X, 13. Apollodorus in his Chronology tens us that our philosopher 
(i.e., Epicurus) was a pupil of Nausiphanes and Praxiphanes; but in his letter to 
Eurydicus, Epicurus himself denies it and says that he was self-taught. 

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, I, xxvi [72]. Eor he (Epicurus) boasted that, he had 
never had a teacher. This I for my part could well believe, even if he did not proclaim 

it... 

Seneca, Epistle LII, p. 177. Epicurus remarks that certain men have worked their way 
to the truth without any one's assistance, carving out their own passage. And he gives 
special praise to these, for their impulse has come from within, and they have forged to 
the front by themselves. Again, he says, there are others who need outside help, who will 
not proceed unless someone leads the way, but who win follow faithfully. Of these, he 
says, Metrodorus was one; this type of man is also excellent, but belongs to the second 
grade. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 10. He spent all his life in Greece, notwithstanding the 
calamities which had befallen her in that age; when he did once or twice take a trip to 
Ionia, it was to visit his friends there. Eriends indeed came to him from all parts and lived 
with him in his garden. This is stated by Apollodorus, who also says that he purchased 
the garden for eighty minae. 

129} Ibid., X, 15, 16. Hermippus relates that he entered a bronze bath of lukewarm water 
and asked for unmixed wine, which he swallowed, and then, having bidden his friends 
remember his doctrines, breathed his last. 

120} Cicero, On Fate, x [22, 23]. Epicurus [thinks] that the necessity of fate can be 
avoided.... Democritus preferred to accept the view that all events are caused by 
necessity. 

Id., On the Nature of the Gods, I, xxv [69]. He [Epkurus] therefore invented a device to 
escape from determinism (the point had apparently escaped the notice of Democritus).... 

Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, I, pp. 23 seqq. Democritus of Abdera [assumed] ... 
that all, the past as well as the present and the future, has been determined always, since 
time immemorial, by necessity. 

Gl) Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, V, 8 [7 Sgb , 2-3]. Democritus ... reduces to 
necessity all the operations of Nature. 

122} Diogenes Laertius, IX, 45. All things happen by virtue of necessity, the vortex being 
the cause of the creation of all things, and this he (Democritus) calls necessity. 

( 33 } 

(Plutarch) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, p. 252 [I, 251. Parmenides and 



Democritus [say] that there is nothing in the world but what is necessary, and that this 
same necessity is otherwise called fate, right, providence and the creator of the world. 

iMl Stobaeus, Physical Selections, 1, 8. Parmenides and Democlitus [say] that everything 
occurs by necessity, this being /ate, justice, providence [and the architect of the world]. 
Leudppus [says] that everything [occurs] by necessity, this being fate. For he says ... 
nothing originates without cause, but everything because of a cause and of necessity. 

125) Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, VI, p. 257. ... fate, that ... for the others (i.e., 
Democritus) depends on these small bodies, which are carried downward and then ascend 
again, that conglomerate and again dissipate, that run away from each other and then 
come together again by necessity, 

126) Stobaeus, Ethical Selections, II 14]. Men like to create for themselves the illusion of 
chance-an excuse for their own perplexity; since chance is incompatible with sound 
thinking. 

1221 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 782. ... and he (i.e., Democritus) has 
made chance the master and ruler of the universal and divine, and has claimed that 
everything happens through chance. At the same time he keeps it away from human life 
and has decried as stupid those who proclaim it. Indeed, at the beginning of his teachings 
he says: “Men like to create for themselves the illusion of chance-an excuse for their own 
folly; since it is natural that sound thinking is incompatible with chance; and they have 
said that this worst enemy of thinking rules; or rather, they accept chance instead of 
thinking by totally removing and abolishing sound thinking. Eor they do not appreciate 
thinking as blissful, but chance as the most reasonable." 

128} Simplicius, 1. c., p. 351. The expression “like the ardent doctrine that removes 
chance” seems to refer to Democritus.... 

129} Diogenes Laertius, X, 133, 134. ... Destiny,' which some introduce as sovereign over 
all things, he laughs to scorn, affirming rather that some things happen of necessity, 
others by chance, others through our own agency. Eor he sees that necessity destroys 
responsibility and that chance or fortune is inconstant; whereas our own actions are free, 
and it is to them that praise and blame naturally attach. It were better, indeed, to accept 
the legends of the gods than to bow beneath the yoke of destiny which the natural 
philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope that we may escape if we 
honour the gods, while the necessity of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties. But he 
holds to chance, not to a god, as the world in general {hoi polloi] does ... 

120) Seneca, Epistle XII, p. 42. “It is wrong to live under necessity; but no man is 
constrained to live under necessity.... On all sides lie many short and simple paths to 
freedom; and let us thank God that no man can he kept in life. We may spurn the very 
constraints that hold us.” Epicurus ... uttered these words.... 



Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, 1, xx [55-561. But what value can be assigned to 
a philosophy (i. c., the Stole) whieh thinks that everything happens by fate? It is a belief 
for old women, and ignorant old women at that.... But Epicurus has set us free [from 
superstitious terrors] and delivered us out of captivity.... 

Ibid., I, XXV [70]. He (i.e., Epicurus) does the same in his battle with the logicians. 
Their accepted doctrine is that in every disjunctive proposition of the form "so-and-so 
either is or not, one of the two alternatives must be true. Epicurus took alarm; if such a 
proposition as “Epicurus either will or will not be alive tomorrow’’' were granted, one or 
the other alternative would be necessary. Accordingly he denied the necessity of a 
disjunctive proposition altogether. 

Simplicius, 1. c., p. 351. But also Democritus states, where he brings it up, that the 
different kinds must separate themselves from the totality, but not how and because of 
what reason, and seems to let them originate automatically and by chance. 

Ibid., p. 351. ... and since this man (i. e., Democritus) has apparently applied chance in 
the creation of the world.... 

H4) Comp. Eusebius, 1. c., XIV, [pip. [781-1782. ... and this [said] one (i. e., 

Democritus), who had sought vainly and without reason for a cause, since he started from 
an empty principle and a faulty hypothesis, and has taken as the greatest wisdom the 
understanding of unreasonable [and foolish] happenings, without seeing the root and 
general necessity of things.... 

Simplicius, 1. c., p. 351. ... indeed, when somebody is thirsty, he drinks cold water 
and feels fine again; but Democritus will probably not accept chance as the cause, but the 
thirst. 

Ibid, p. 351. ... for, even though he (Democritus) seems to use chance in regard to the 
creation of the world, yet he maintains that in individual cases ehanee is not the cause of 
anything, but refers us back to other causes. Eor instance: the cause of treasure trove is 
the digging or the planting of the olive tree.... 

Comp, ibid, p. 351. ... but in individual cases, he (Democritus) says, [chance] is not the 
cause. 

Eusebius, 1. c., XIV, 781. Indeed, Democritus himself is supposed to have said that 
he would rather discover a new causal explanation than acquire the Persian crown. 

(Plutarch) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, II, p. 261 [13]. Epicurus rejects 
none of these opinions, [Marx added here: “(i-e., opinions of the philosophers on the 
substance of the stars)".] [for he keeps to] what is possible. 

Ibid., II, p. 265 [21]. Epicurus says again that all the foregoing is possible. 



Ibid. [II, 22] Epicurus believes that all the foregoing is possible. 

Stobaeus, Physical Selections, I, p. 54. Epicurus rejects none of these opinions, for he 
keeps to what is possible. 

Seneca, Questions of Nature, [VI,] XX, [5,] p. 802. Epicurus asserts that all the 
foregoing may be causes, but he tries to introduce some additional ones. He criticises 
other authors for affirming too positively that some particular one of the causes is 
responsible, as it is difficult to pronounce anything as certain in matters in which 
conjecture must be resorted to. 

Comp. Part II, Chapter 5. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 88. However, we must observe each fact as presented, and further 
separate from it all the facts presented along with it, the occurrence of which from 
various causes is not contradicted by facts within our experience.... All these alternatives 
are possible; they are contradicted by none of the facts.... 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 80. We must not suppose that our treatment of these matters 
fails of accuracy, so far as it is needful to ensure our tranquillity [ataraxy] and happiness. 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 
Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail 



Chapter One: The Declination of the Atom from the 
Straight Line 



Epicurus assumes a threefold motion of the atoms in the void.fil One motion is the fall in 
a straight line, the second originates in the deviation of the atom /rom the straight line, 
and the third is established through the repulsion of the many atoms. Both Democritus 
and Epicurus accept the first and the third motion. The declination of the atom from the 
straight line differentiates the one from the other. (2) 

This motion of declination has often been made the subject of a joke. Cicero more than 
any other is inexhaustible when he touches on this theme. Thus we read in him, among 
other things: 

“Epicurus maintains that the atoms are thrust downwards in a straight line by their 
weight; this motion is said to he the natural motion of bodies. But then it occurred to him 
that if all atoms were thrust downwards, no atom could ever meet another one. Epicurus 
therefore resorted to a lie. He said that the atom makes a very tiny swerve, which is, of 
course, entirely impossible. Erom this arose complexities, combinations and adhesions of 
the atoms with one another, and out of this came the world, all parts of it and its contents. 
Besides all this being a puerile invention, he does not even achieve what he desires. "(31 

We find another version in the first book of Cicero's treatise On the Nature of the Gods: 

“Since Epicurus saw that, if the atoms travelled downwards by their own weight, nothing 
would be within our control, for their motion would be determined and necessary, he 
invented a means for escaping this necessity, a means which had escaped the notice of 
Democritus. He says that the atom, although thrust downwards by its weight and gravity, 
makes a very slight swerve. To assert this is more disgraceful than to he incapable of 
defending what he wants. 

Pierre Bayle expresses a similar opinion: 

“Before him” (i.e., Epicurus) “only the motion of weight and that of reflection were 
conceded to the atom.... Epicurus supposed that even in the midst of the void the atoms 
declined slightly from the straight line, and from this, he said, arose freedom.... It must he 
noted, in passing, that this was not the only motive that led him to invent this motion of 



declination. He also used it to explain the meeting of atoms; for he saw clearly that 
supposing they fall] move with equal speed downwards along straight lines, he would 
never be able to explain that they could meet, and that thus the creation of the world 
would have been impossible. It was necessary, then, that they should deviate from the 
straight line. 

For the present I leave the validity of these reflections an open question. This much 
everyone will notice in passing, that the most recent critic of Epicurus, Schaubach, has 
misunderstood Cicero when he says: 

“The atoms are all thrust downwards by gravity, hence parallel, owing to physical causes, 
but through mutual repulsion they acquire another motion, according to Cicero (De 
nature deorum, I, xxv [, 69]) an oblique motion due to accidental causes, and indeed from 
all eternity."^ 

In the first place, Cicero in the quoted passage does not make the repulsion the reason for 
the oblique direction, but rather the oblique direction the reason for the repulsion. In the 
second place, he does not speak of accidental causes, but rather criticises the fact that no 
causes at all are mentioned, as it would be in and for itself contradictory to assume 
repulsion and at the same time accidental causes as the reason for the oblique direction. 

At best one could then still speak of accidental causes of the repulsion, but not of 
accidental causes of the oblique direction. 

For the rest, one peculiarity in Cicero's and Bayle's reflections is too obvious not to be 
stressed immediately. They foist upon Epicurus motives of which the one nullifies the 
other. Epicurus is supposed to have assumed a declination of the atoms in order to 
explain the repulsion on one occasion, and on another freedom. But if the atoms do not 
meet without declination, then declination as an explanation of freedom is superfluous; 
for the opposite of freedom begins, as we see in Lucretius,^) only with the deterministic 
and forced meeting of atoms. But if the atoms meet without declination, then this is 
superfluous for explaining repulsion. 1 maintain that this contradiction arises when the 
causes for the declination of the atom from the straight line are understood so 
superficially and disconnectedly as they are by Cicero and Bayle. We shall find in 
Lucretius, the only one in general of all the ancients who has understood Epicurean 
physics, a more profound exposition. 

We now shall consider the declination itself. 

Just as the point is negated [aufgehoben] in the line, so is every failing body negated in 
the straight line it describes, its specific quality does not matter here at all. A falling apple 
describes a perpendicular line just as a piece of iron does. Every body, insofar as we are 
concerned with the motion of falling, is therefore nothing but a moving point, and indeed 
a point without independence, which in a certain mode of being-the straight line which it 
describes-surrenders its individuality [Einzelheit]. Aristotle therefore is correct when he 



objects against the Pythagoreans: “You say that the motion of the line is the surface, that 
of the point the line; then the motions of the monads will also be lines. The 
consequence of this for the monads as well as for the atoms would therefore be-since they 
are in constant motion!^ — that neither monads nor atoms exist, but rather disappear in 
the straight line; for the solidity of the atom does not even enter into the picture, insofar 
as it is only considered as something falling in a straight line. To begin with, if the void is 
imagined as spatial void, then the atom is the immediate negation of abstract space, 
hence a spatial point. The solidity, the intensity, which maintains itself in itself against 
the incohesion of space, can only he added by virtue of a principle which negates space in 
its entire domain, a principle such as time is in real nature. Moreover, if this itself is not 
admitted, the atom, insofar as its motion is a straight line, is determined only by space 
and is prescribed a relative being and a purely material existence. But we have seen that 
one moment in the concept of the atom is that of being pure form, negation of all 
relativity, of all relation to another mode of being. We have noted at the same time that 
— Epicurus objectifies for himself both moments which, although they contradict one 
another, are nevertheless inherent in the concept of the atom. 

How then can Epicurus give reality to the pure form-determination of the atom, the 
concept of pure individuality, negating any mode of being determined by another being? 

Since he is moving in the domain of immediate being, all determinations are immediate. 
Opposite determinations are therefore opposed to one another as immediate realities. 

But the relative existence which confronts the atom, the mode of being which it has to 
negate, is the straight line. The immediate negation of this motion is another motion, 
which, therefore, spatially conceived, is the declination from the straight line. 

The atoms are purely self-sufficient bodies or rather bodies conceived in absolute 
self-sufficiency, like the heavenly bodies. Hence, again like the heavenly bodies, they 
move not in straight, but in oblique lines. The motion of failing is the motion of 
non-self-sufficiency. 

If Epicurus therefore represents the materiality of the atom in terms of its motion along a 
straight line, he has given reality to its form-determination in the declination from the 
straight line, and these opposed determinations are represented as directly opposed 
motions. 

Lucretius therefore is correct when he maintains that, the declination breaks ih^fati 
foedera, [bonds of fatejfhh and, since he applies this immediately to consciousness,^!) it 
can be said of the atom that the declination is that something in its breast that can fight 
back and resist. 

But when Cicero reproaches Epicurus that 

“he does not even attain the goal for which he made all this up -for if all atoms declined. 



none of them would ever combine, or some would deviate, others would be driven 
straight ahead by their motion. So it would be necessary as it were to give the atoms 
definite assignments beforehand: which had to move straight ahead and which 
obliquely 

this objection has the justification that the two moments inherent in the concept of the 
atom are represented as directly different motions, and therefore must be allotted to 
different individuals: an inconsistency, but a consistent one, since the domain of the atom 
is immediacy. 

Epicurus feels this inherent contradiction quite well. He therefore endeavours to represent 
the declination as being as imperceptible as possible to the senses; it takes place 

In time, in place unfixt (Lucretius, De rerum nature, II, 294). ( 13 ) 

it occurs in the smallest possible space.H^ 

Moreover Cicero, and, according to Plutarch, several ancient authors,Hh) reproach 
Epicurus for saying that the declination of the atom occurs without cause. Nothing more 
disgraceful, says Cicero, can happen to a physicist.H21 But, in the first place, a physical 
cause such as Cicero wants would throw the declination of the atom back into the domain 
of determinism, out of which it was precisely to be lifted. And then, the atom is by no 
means complete before it has been submitted to the determination of declination. To 
inquire after the cause of this determination means therefore to inquire after the cause that 
makes the atom a principle-a clearly meaningless inquiry to anyone for whom the atom is 
the cause of everything, hence without cause itself. 

Einally, fiay/e,H^-supported by the authority of Augustine, who states that 
Democritus ascribed to the atom a spiritual principle — an authority, by the way, who in 
contrast to Aristotle and the other ancients is without any importance-reproaches 
Epicurus for having thought out the concept of declination instead of this spiritual 
principle. But, on the contrary, merely a word would have been gained with this “soul of 
the atom", whereas the declination represents the real soul of the atom, the concept of 
abstract individuality. 

Before we consider the consequence of the declination of the atom from the straight line, 
we must draw attention to another, most important element, which up to now has been 
entirely overlooked. 

The declination of the atom from the straight line is, namely, not a particular 
determination which appears accidentally in Epicurean physics. On the contrary, the law 
which it expresses goes through the whole Epicurean philosophy, in such a way, 
however, that, as goes without saying, the determination of its appearance depends on 
the domain in which it is applied. 



As a matter of fact, abstract individuality can make its concept, its form-determination, 
the pure being-for-itself, the independence from immediate being, the negation of all 
relativity, effective only by abstracting from the being that confronts it; for in order truly 
to overcome it, abstract individuality had to idealise it, a thing only generality can 
accomplish. 

Thus, while the atom frees itself from its relative existence, the straight line, by 
abstracting from it, by swerving away from it; so the entire Epicurean philosophy 
swerves away from the restrictive mode of being wherever the concept of abstract 
individuality, self-sufficiency and negation of all relation to other things must be 
represented in its existence. 

The purpose of action is to be found therefore in abstracting, swerving away from pain 
and confusion, in ataraxy. (2D1 Hence the good is the flight from evil,!^ pleasure the 
swerving away from suffering.122) Finally, where abstract individuality appears in its 
highest freedom and independence, in its totality, there it follows that the being which is 
swerved away from, is all being., for this reason, the gods swerve away from the world, 
do not bother with it and live outside it.l^ 

These gods of Epicurus have often been ridiculed, these gods who, like human beings, 
dwell in the intermundia [The spaces between the worlds, literally: inter-worlds] of the 
real world, have no body but a quasi-body, no blood but quasi-blood,^ and, content to 
abide in blissful peace, lend no car to any supplication, are unconcerned with us and the 
world, are honoured because of their beauty, their majesty and their superior nature, and 
not for any gain. 

And yet these gods are no fiction of Epicurus. They did exist. They are the Elastic gods 
of Greek art.^^ Cicero, the Roman, rightly scoffs at them,!^ but Plutarch, the Greek, 
has forgotten the whole Greek outlook when he claims that although this doctrine of the 
gods does away with fear and superstition, it produces no joy or favour in the gods, but 
instead bestows on us that relation to them that we have to the Hyrcanian l^TL fish, from 
which we expect neither harm nor advantage.^2^ Theoretical calm is one of the chief 
characteristics of the Greek gods. As Aristotle says: 

“What is best has no need of action, for it is its own end."i^ 

We now consider the consequence that follows directly from the declination of the atom. 
In it is expressed the atom's negation of all motion and relation by which it is determined 
as a particular mode of being by another being. This is represented in such a way that the 
atom abstracts from the opposing being and withdraws itself from it. But what is 
contained herein, namely, its negation of all relation to something else, must be realised, 
positively established. This can only be done if the being to which it relates itself w, none 
other than itself, hence equally an atom, and, since it itself is directly determined, many 
atoms. The repulsion of the many atoms is therefore the necessary realisation of the lex 



atomi, [Law of the atom] as Lucretius calls the declination. But since here every 
determination is established as a particular being, repulsion is added as a third motion to 
the former ones. Lucretius is therefore correct when he says that, if the atoms were not to 
decline, neither their repulsion nor their meeting would have taken place, and the world 
would never have been created.^^ For atoms are their own sole object and can only be 
related to themselves, hence speaking in spatial terms, they can only meet, because every 
relative existence of these atoms by which they would be related to other beings is 
negated. And this relative existence is, as we have seen, their original motion, that of 
falling in a straight line. Hence they meet only by virtue of their declination from the 
straight line. It has nothing to do with merely material fragmentation.!^ 

And in truth: the immediately existing individuality is only realised conceptually, 
inasmuch as it relates to something else which actually is itself — even when the other 
thing confronts it in the form of immediate existence. Thus man ceases to he a product of 
nature only when the other being to which he relates himself is not a different existence 
but is itself an individual human being, even if it is not yet the mind {Geisf\. But for man 
as man to become his own real object, he must have crushed within himself his relative 
being, the power of desire and of mere nature. Repulsion is the first form of 
self-consciousness, it corresponds therefore to that self-consciousness which conceives 
itself as immediate-being, as abstractly individual. 

The concept of the atom is therefore realised in repulsion, inasmuch as it is abstract form, 
but no less also the opposite, inasmuch as it is abstract matter; for that to which it relates 
itself consists, to be true, of atoms, but other atoms. But when 1 relate myself to myself as 
to something which is directly another, then my relationship is a material one. This is the 
most extreme degree of externality that can be conceived. In the repulsion of the atoms, 
therefore, their materiality, which was posited in the fall in a straight line, and the 
form-determination, which was established in the declination, are united synthetically. 

Democritus, in contrast to Epicurus, transforms into an enforced motion, into an act of 
blind necessity, that which to Epicurus is the realisation of the concept of the atom. We 
have already seen above that he considers the vortex {dini) resulting from the repulsion 
and collision of the atoms to be the substance of necessity. He therefore sees in the 
repulsion only the material side, the fragmentation, the change, and not the ideal side, 
according to which all relation to something else is negated and motion is established as 
self-determination. This can be clearly seen from the fact that he conceives one and the 
same body divided through empty space into many parts quite sensuously, like gold 
broken up into pieces. !20) Thus he scarcely conceived of the One as the concept of the 
atom. 

Aristotle correctly argues against him: 

“Hence Leucippus and Democritus, who assert that the primary bodies always moved in 
the void and in the infinite, should say what kind of motion this is, and what is the motion 



natural to them. For if each of the elements is forcibly moved by the other, then it is still 
necessary that each should have also a natural motion, outside which is the enforced one. 
And this first motion must not be enforced but natural. Otherwise the procedure goes on 
to infinity."!^ 

The Epicurean declination of the atom thus changed the whole inner structure of the 
domain of the atoms, since through it the form-determination is validated and the 
contradiction inherent in the concept of the atom is realised. Epicurus was therefore the 
first to grasp the essence of the repulsion — even if only in sensuous form, whereas 
Democritus only knew of its material existence. 

Hence we find also more concrete forms of the repulsion applied by Epicurus. In the 
political domain there is the covenants^ in the social domain friendship, which is 
praised as the highest good. 



Part II, Chapter 2: The Qualities of the Atom 



HI Stobaeus, Physical Selections, 1, p. 33. Epicurus says ... that the atoms move 
sometimes vertically downwards, at other times by deviating from a straight fine, but the 
motion upward is due to collision and recoil. 

Comp. Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vi. (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the 
Philosophers, p. 249 [I, 12]. Stobaeus, l.c., p. 40. 

^ Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, 1, xxvi [73]. What is there in Epicurus' natural 
philosophy that does not come from Democritus? Since even if he introduced some 
alterations, for instance the swerve of the atoms of which I spoke just now ... 

12) Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vi [18-19]. He (Epicurus) believes that 
these same indivisible solid bodies are borne by their own weight perpendicularly 
downward, which he holds is the natural motion of all bodies; but thereupon this clever 
fellow, encountering the difficulty that if they all travelled downwards in a straight fine, 
and, as I said, perpendicularly, no one atom would ever he able to overtake any other 
atom, accordingly introduced an idea of his own invention: he said that the atom makes a 
very tiny swerve,- the smallest divergence possible; and so are produced entanglements 
and combinations and cohesions of atoms with atoms, which result in the creation of the 
world and all its parts, and of all that is in them. 

H) Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, I, xxv [69-70]. Epicurus saw that if the atoms 
travelled downwards by their own weight, we should have no freedom of the will, since 
the motion of the atoms would he determined by necessity. He therefore invented a 



device to escape from determinism (the point had apparently escaped the notice of 
Democritus): he said that the atom while travelling vertically downward by the force of 
gravity makes a very slight swerrve to one side. This defence discredits him more than if 
he had had to abandon his original position. Comp. Cicero, On Fate, x [22-23]. 

Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique (Historical and Critical Dictionary), art. 
Epicurus. 

Schaubach, On Epicurus' Astronomical Concepts [in German], inArchivfiir 
Philologie und Pedagogic, V, 4, [1839,] p. 549. 

Cl Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 1 1, 251 ff. Again, if all movement is always 
interconnected, the new rising from the old in a determinate order ... what is the source of 
the free will? 

Cl Aristotle, On the Soul, I, 4 [409, 1-5]. How are we to imagine a unit [monad] being 
moved? By what agency? What sort of movement can be attributed to what is without 
parts or internal differences? If the unit is both originative of movement and itself capable 
of being moved, it must contain differences. Eurther, since they say a moving line 
generates a surface and a moving point a line, the movements of the psychic units must 
be lines. 

Cl Diogenes Laertius, X, 43. The atoms are in continual motion. 

Simplicius, l.c., p. 424. ... the followers of Epicurus ... [taught] eternal motion. 

fCl Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 11, 251, 253-255. ... if the atoms never swerve so 
as to originate some new movement that will snap the bonds of fate, the everlasting 
sequence of cause and effect.... 

Cfl Ibid., II, 279-280. ... there is within the human breast something that can fight against 
this force and resist it. 

fCl Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vi [19-20]. ... yet he does not attain the 
object for the sake of which this fiction was devised. Eor, if all the atoms swerve, none 
will ever come to cohere together; or if some swerve while others travel in a straight line, 
by their own natural tendency, in the first place this will be tantamount to assigning to the 
atoms their different spheres of action, some to travel straight and some sideways.... 

fCl Lucretius, l.c., 293. 

Cicero, On Fate, x [22]. ... when the atom swerves sideways a minimal space, termed 
[by Epicurus] elachiston [the smallest]. 

Ibid. Also he is compelled to profess in reality, if not quite explicitly, that this swerve 
takes place without cause.... 



Plutarch, On the Creation of the Soul, VI (VI, p. 8, stereotyped edition). For they do 
not agree with Epicurus that the atom swerves somewhat, since he introduces a motion 
without cause out of the non-being. 

Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vi [191. The swerving is itself an arbitrary 
fiction (for Epicurus says the atoms swerve without a cause, yet this is a capital offence in 
a natural philosopher, to speak of something taking place uncaused]. Then also he 
gratuitously deprives the atoms of what he himself declared to be the natural motion of 
all heavy bodies, namely, movement in a straight line downwards....' 

fi^Bayle, l.c. 

Augustine, Letter 56. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 128. Eor the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and 
fear. 

1211 Plutarch, That Epicurw Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible, 1091. Epicurus 
too makes a similar statement to the effect that the Good is a thing that arises out of your 
very escape from evil.... 

1221 Clement of Alexandria, The Miscellanies, II, p. 415 [21]. ... Epicurus also says that 
the removal of pain is pleasure.... 

Sencea, On Benefits, IV [,4, 1 1, p. 699. Yes, and therefore God does not give 
benefits, but, free from all care and unconcerned about us, he turns his back on the 
world... and benefits no more concern him than injuries.... 

1241 Cicero, on the Nature of the Gods, 1, xxiv [681. ... you gave us the formula just now 
-God has not body but a semblance of body, not blood but a kind of blood. 

IdEl ibid.. xi [1 12, 115-116]. Well then, what meat and drink, what harmonies of music 
and flowers of various colours, what delights of touch and smell will you assign to the 
gods, so as to keep them steeped in pleasure?... Why, what reason have you for 
maintaining that men owe worship to the gods, if the gods not only pay no regard to men, 
but care for nothing and do nothing at all? “But deity possesses an excellence and 
pre-eminence which must of its own nature attract the worship of the wise.” Now how 
can there be any excellence in a being so engrossed in the delights of his own pleasure 
that he always has been, is, and will continue to be entirely idle and inactive? 

12E1 Plutarch, That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible, [1 100-] 1 101. ... 
their theory ... does remove a certain superstitious fear; but it allows no joy and delight to 
come to us from the gods. Instead, it puts us in the same state of mind with regard to the 
gods, of neither being alarmed nor rejoicing, that we have regarding the Hyrcanian fish. 
We expect nothing from them either good or evil. 



^221 Aristotle, On the Heavens, If, 12 [292 4-6]. ... while the perfectly conditioned has no 
need of action, since it is itself the end.... 

^231 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 1 1, 221, 223-224. If it were not for this swerve, 
everything would fall downwards like rain-drops through the abyss of space. No collision 
would take place and no impact of atom on atom would he created anything, created. 
Thus nature would never have 

129} Ibid., II, 284-292. So also in the atoms ... besides weight and impact there must be a 
third cause of movement, the source of this inborn power of ours.... 

But the fact that the mind itself has no internal necessity to determine its every act and 
compel it to suffer in helpless passivity-this is due to the slight swerve of the atoms.... 

1201 Aristotle, On the Heavens, I, 7 -276a, 11. If the whole is not [275 30-276, 1] If the 
whole is not continuous, but exists, as Democritus and Leucippus think, in the form of 
parts separated by void, there must necessarily be one movement of all the multitude. ... 
but their nature is one, like many pieces of gold separated from one another. 

1211 Ibid., Ill, 2 [300, 9-17]. Hence Leucippus and Democritus, who say that the primary 
bodies are in perpetual movement in the void or infinite, may be asked to explain the 
manner of their motion and the kind of movement which is natural to them. For if the 
various elements are constrained by one another to move as they do, each must still have 
a natural movement which the constrained contravenes, and the prime mover must cause 
motion not by constraint but naturally. If there is no ultimate natural cause of movement 
and each preceding term in the series is always moved by constraint, we shall have an 
infinite process. 

1221 Diogones Laertius, X, 150. Those animals which are incapable of making covenants 
with one another, to the end that they may neither inflict nor suffer harm, are without 
either justice or injustice. And those tribes which either could not or would not form 
mutual covenants to the same end are in like case. There never was an absolute justice, 
but only an agreement made in reciprocal intercourse, in whatever localities, now and 
again, from time to time, providing against the infliction or suffering of harm. 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail 



Chapter Two: The Qualities of the Atom 



It contradicts the concept of the atom that the atom should have properties, because, as 
Epicurus says, every property is variable but the atoms do not change.fil Nevertheless it 
is a necessary consequence to attribute properties to atoms. Indeed, the many atoms of 
repulsion separated by sensuous space must necessarily be immediately dijferent from 
one another smdfrom their pure essence, i.e., they must possess qualities. 

In the following analysis I therefore take no account of the assertion made by Schneider 
and Niirnberger that “Epicurus attributed no qualities to the atoms, paragraphs 44 and 54 
of the letter to Herodotus in Diogenes Laertius have been interpolated”. If this were truly 
so, how is one to invalidate the evidence of Lucretius, Plutarch, and indeed of all other 
authors who speak of Epicurus? Moreover, Diogenes Laertius mentions the qualities of 
the atom not in two, but in ten paragraphs: Nos. 42, 43, 44, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 and 61. 
The grounds these critics give for their contention — that “they did not know how to 
reconcile the qualities of the atom with its concept"-are very shallow.” Spinoza says 
that ignorance is no argument. [Spinoza, Ethics, Part I, Prop. 36, Appendix] If one was to 
delete the passages in the ancients which he does not understand, how quickly would we 
have a tabula rasa ! 

Through the qualities the atom acquires an existence which contradicts its concept; it is 
assumed as an externalised being different from its essence. It is this contradiction which 
mainly interests Epicurus. Hence, as soon as he posits a property and thus draws the 
consequence of the material nature of the atom, he counterposits at the same time 
determinations which again destroy this property in its own sphere and validate instead 
the concept of the atom. He therefore determines all properties in such a way that they 
contradict themselves. Democritus, on the other hand, nowhere considers the properties 
in relation to the atom itself, nor does he objectify the contradiction between concept and 
existence which is inherent in them. His whole interest lies rather in representing the 
qualities in relation to concrete nature, which is to be formed out of them. To him they 
are merely hypotheses to explain the plurality . which makes its appearance. It follows 
that the concept of the atom has nothing to do with them. 

In order to prove our assertion it is first of all necessary to elucidate the sources which 
here seem to contradict one another. 

In the treatise De placitis philosophorum we read: 



“Epicurus asserts that the atoms have three qualities: size, shape, weight. Democritus 
only assumed two: size and shape. Epicurus added weight as the third. 

The same passage is repeated word for word in the Praeparatio evangelica of 
Eusebius.^ 

It is confirmed by the testimony of Simpliciusl^ and Philoponus,^ according to whom 
Democritus attributed to the atoms only difference in size and shape. Directly contrary 
stands Aristotle who, in the book De generations et corruptions, attributes to the atoms of 
Democritus difference in weight.l^ In another passage (in the first book of De caelo) 
Aristotle leaves undecided the question of whether or not Democritus ascribed weight to 
the atoms, for he says: 

"Thus none of the bodies will be absolutely light if they all have weight; but if all have 
lightness, none will be heavy. 

In his Geschichte der alten Philosophie, Ritter, basing himself on the authority of 
Aristotle, rejects the assertions of Plutarch, Eusebius and Stobaeus.l^ He does not 
consider the testimony of Simplicius and Philoponus. 

Let us see whether these passages are really so contradictory. In the passage cited, 
Aristotle does not speak of the qualities of the atom ex professo. [as someone who knows 
their profession] On the other hand, we read in the eighth book of the Metaphysics: 

"Democritus assumes three differences between atoms. Eor the underlying body is one 
and the same with respect to matter, but it differs in rhysmos, meaning shape, in trope, 
meaning position, or in diathige, meaning arrangement. "(91 

This much can be immediately concluded from this passage . Weight is not mentioned as 
a property of the Democritean atoms. The fragmented pieces of matter, kept apart by the 
void, must have special forms, and these are quite externally perceived from the 
observation of space. This emerges even more clearly from the following passage of 
Aristotle: 

"Leucippus and his companion Democritus hold that the elements are the full and the 
void.... These are the basis of being as matter, just as those who assume only one 
fundamental substance generate all other things by its affections, assuming rarity and 
density as the principles of qualities-in the same way Leucippus and Democritus also 
teach that the differences between the atoms are the causes of the other things, for the 
underlying being differs only by rhysmos, diathige and trope .... That is, A differs from N 
in shape, AN from NA in arrangement, Z from N in position. 

It is evident from this quotation that Democritus considers the properties of the atom only 
in relation to the formation of the differences in the world of appearances, and not in 
relation to the atom itself, it follows further that Democritus does not single out weight as 



an essential property of the atoms. For him weight is taken for granted, since everything 
corporeal has weight. In the same way, according to him, even size is not a basic quality. 
It is an accidental determination which is already given to the atoms together with figure. 
Only the diversity of the figures is of interest to Democritus, since nothing more is 
contained in shape, position and arrangement. Size, shape and weight, by being combined 
as they are by Epicurus, are differences which the atom in itself possesses. Shape, 
position and arrangement are differences which the atom possesses in relation to 
something else. Whereas we find in Democritus mere hypothetical determinations to 
explain the world of appearances, in Epicurus the consequence of the principle itself will 
be presented to us. We shall therefore discuss in detail his determinations of the 
properties of the atom. 

First of all, the atoms have size.fiH And then again, size is also negated. That is to say, 
they do not have every size;fi^ but only some differences in size among them must be 
admitted.^ Indeed, only the negation of the large can be ascribed to them, the small,ff^ 
— also not the minimum, for this would be merely a spatial determination, but the 
infinitely small, which expresses the contradiction. Rosinius, in his notes on the 
fragments of Epicurus; therefore translates one passage incorrectly and completely 
ignores the other, when he says: 

“In this way Epicurus tried to make plausible the tenuity of the atoms of incredible 
smallness, by saying, according to Laertius, X, 44, that they have no size.”fihl 

Now I shall not concern myself with the fact that, according to Eusebius, Epicurus was 
the first to ascribe infinite smallness to the atoms,flTl whereas Democritus also assumed 
atoms of the largest size — Stobaeus says even as large as the world.fi^ 

This, on the one hand, contradicts the testimony of Aristotle . On the other hand, 
Eusebius, or rather the Alexandrian bishop Dionysius, from whom he takes excerpts, 
contradicts himself; for in the same book we read that Democritus assumed as the 
principles of nature indivisible bodies perceptible through reason.l^ This much at least 
is clear: Democritus was not aware of the contradiction; he did not pay attention to it, 
whereas it was the chief interest of Epicurus. 

The second property of the Epicurean atoms is shape . But this determination also 
contradicts the concept of the atom, and its opposite must be assumed. Abstract 
individuality is abstract identity-to-itself and therefore without shape. The differences in 
the shape of the atoms cannot, therefore, be determinedly although they are not 
absolutely infinite.iy It is rather by a definite and finite number of shapes that the atoms 
are differentiated from one another.iy Erom this it is obvious that there are not as many 
different figures as there are atoms,125} while Democritus assumes an infinite number of 
figures.iy If every atom had a particular shape, then there would have to be atoms of 
infinite — size^dJl-^ for they would have an infinite difference, the difference from all the 



others, in themselves [an sich], like the monads of Leibniz. This leads to the inversion of 
Leibniz's assertion that no two things are identical, and there are infinitely many atoms of 
the same shape. This obviously negates again the determination of the shape, because a 
shape which no longer differs from another is not shape. (28} 

Finally, it is highly important that Epicurus makes weight the third quality ,^29} for in the 
centre of gravity matter possesses the ideal individuality which forms a principal 
determination of the atom. Hence, once the atoms are brought into the realm of 
presentation, they must also have weight. 

But weight also directly contradicts the concept of the atom, because it is the 
individuality of matter as an ideal point which lies outside matter. But the atom is itself 
this individuality, as it were the centre of gravity presented as an individual existence. 
Weight therefore exists for Epicurus only as dijferent weight, and the atoms are 
themselves substantial centres o/ gravity like the heavenly bodies. If this is applied to the 
concrete, then the obvious result is the fact which old Brucker finds so amazingl^O) and of 
which Lucretius assures us, namely, that the earth has no centre towards which 
everything strives, and that there are no antipodes. Eurthermore since weight belongs 
only to that atom which is different from the other, hence externalised and endowed with 
properties, then it is clear that where the atoms are not thought of as many in their 
differentiation from one another, but only in relation to the void, the determination of 
weight ceases to exist. The atoms, as different as they may be in mass and shape, move 
therefore with equal speed in empty space.^2^ Epicurus thus applies weight only in 
regard to repulsion and the resulting compositions. This has led to the assertions that only 
the conglomerations of the atoms are endowed with weight, but not the atoms 

themselves. ^23} 

Gassendi already praises Epicurus because, led purely by reason, he anticipated the 
experimentally demonstrated fact that all bodies, although very different in weight and 
mass, have the same velocity when they fall from above to below.G4} 

The consideration of the properties of the atoms leads us therefore to the same result as 
the consideration of the declination, namely, that Epicurus objectifies the contradiction in 
the concept of the atom between essence and existence. He thus gave us the science of 
atomistics. In Democritus, on the other hand, there is no realisation of the principle itself. 
He only maintains the material side and offers hypotheses for the benefit of empirical 
observation. 



Part II, Chapter 3 : Atomoi archai and atoma stoicheia 



((D Diogenes Laertius, X, 54. For every quality changes, but the atoms do not change. 

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 861-863. They must be kept far apart from the 
atoms, if we wish to provide the universe with imperishable foundations on which it may 
rest secure ... 

^ (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers [I, 3]. Epicurus ... affirms that ... 
bodies are subject to these three accidents, shape, size and weight. Democritus 
[acknowledged] but two: size and shape. Epicurus added the third, to wit, weight, for he 
pronounced that it is necessary that bodies receive their motion from that impulsion 
which springs from weight Comp. Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 421 [X, 
240]. 

131 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 749 [141. 

131 Simplicius, l.c., p. 362. ...giving (i.e., Democritus) them (i.e., the atoms) the 
difference with regard to size and shape.... 

1^ Philoponus, ibid. He (Democritus) assigns a unique common nature of the body to all 
shapes; its parts are the atoms, which differ from each other in size and shape; for they 
have not only different shape but some of them are bigger, the others smaller. 

131 Aristotle, On Becoming and Decaying, 1, 8 [326, 10]. ...and yet he [Democritus] says 
“the more any indivisible exceeds, the heavier it is”. 

121 Aristotle, On the Heavens, 1, 7 [276, 1-2, 4-7]. But each piece must, as we assert, have 
the same motion.... So that if it be weight that all possess, no body is, strictly speaking, 
light; and if lightness he universal, none is heavy. Moreover, whatever possesses weight 
or lightness will have its place either at one of the extremes or in the middle region. 

151 Ritter, History e>/ Ancient Philosophy [in German], I, p. 568, Note 2 [2d improved 
edition, 1836, p. 602, Note 2]. 

121 Aristotle, Metaphysics, VIII, 2 [1042, II- 141. Democritus seems to think there are 
three kinds of difference between things [atoms] ; the underlying body, the matter, is one 
and the same, but they differ either in rhythm, i. e. shape, or in turning, i. e. position, or in 
inter-contact, i. e. order. 

1191 Ibid., I, 4 [985b, 4-191. Leucippus and his associate Democritus say that the full and 
the empty are the elements, calling the one being and the other non-being-the full and 
solid being being, the empty non-being (whence they say being no more is than 
non-being, because the solid no more is than the empty); and they make these the 
material causes of things. And as those who make the underlying substance one generate 
all other things by its modifications, supposing the rare and the dense to be the sources of 
modifications, in the same way these philosophers say the differences in the elements are 



the causes of all other qualities. These differences, they say, are three-shape and order 
and position. For they say the real is differentiated only by “rhythm” and “inter-contact” 
and “turning”; and of these rhythm is shape, inter-contact is order, and turning is position; 
for A differs from N in shape, AN from NA in order, and Z from, N in position. 

fill Diogenes Laertius X 44. ...atoms have no quality at all except shape, size and weight. 
... further, that they are not of any and every size; at any rate no atom has ever been seen 
by our senses. 

Ibid., X, 56. But to attribute any and every size to the atoms does not help to explain 
the differences of quality in things; moreover, in that case atoms would exist large 
enough to be perceived by us, which is never observed to occur; nor can we conceive 
how such an occurrence should be possible, i. e., that an atom should become visible. 

Ibid., X, 55. Again, you should not suppose that the atoms have any and every size ... 
but some differences of size must be admitted. 

Ibid., X, 59. On the analogy of things within our experience w e have declared that 
the atom has size; and this, small as it is, we have merely reproduced on a larger scale. 

comp, ibid., X, 58. Stobaeus, Physical Selections, I, p. 27. 

fiO Epicurus, Fragments {On Nature, II and XI), collected by Rosinius, ed. By Orefli, p. 
26. 

fiTl Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 773 (Paris ed.). But they differed in 
that one of them (i.e., Epicurus) assumed that all atoms were infinitely small and could 
therefore not be perceived, while Democritus assumed that some large atoms existed too. 

Stobaeus, Physical Selections, I, 17. Democritus even says ... that an atom is possible 
as large as the world. Comp. (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the philosophers, i, p. 235 
11, 31. 

Aristotle, On Becoming and Decaying, 1, 8 1324 , 301. ... invisible ... owing to their 
minuteness.... 

Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 749. Democritus ... [assumed] as the 
principles of the things indivisible ... bodies perceptible through reason.... Comp. 
(Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, I, p. 235 [31. 

121) Diogenes Laertius, X, 54. Moreover, we must hold that the atoms in fact possess 
none of the qualities belonging to the world which come under our observation, except 
shape, weight, and size, and the properties necessarily conjoined with shape. Comp. S. 

44. 

1221 Ibid., X, 42. Furthermore, the atoms ... vary indefinitely in their shapes. 



^23) Ibid., X, 42. ... but the variety of shapes, though indefinitely larger, is not absolutely 
infinite. 

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 513-514. ...you must acknowledge a 
corresponding limit to the different forms of matter. 

Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 749. Epicurus ... [says] ... that the shapes of 
the atoms themselves are limited, and not infinite.... Comp. (Plutarch) On the Sentiments 
of the Philosophers, l.c. 

^2^ Diogenes Laertius, X, 42. The like atoms of each shape are absolutely infinite. 

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 11, 525-528. Since the varieties of form are limited, 
the number of uniform atoms must be unlimited. Otherwise the totality of matter would 
be finite, which 1 have proved in my verses is not so. 

176} Aristotle, On the Heavens, III, 4 [303, 3-5, 10-15]. There is, further, another 
view-that of Leucippus and Democritus of Abdera-the implications of which are also 
unacceptable.... and further, they say that since the atomic bodies differ in shape, and 
there is an infinity of shapes, there is an infinity of simple bodies. But they have never 
explained in detail the shapes of the various elements, except so, far as to allot the sphere 
to fire. Air, water and the rest..., 

Philoponus, l.c. They have ... not only entirely different shapes.... 

172) Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 474-484, 491-492, 495-497. ...the number of 
different forms of atoms is finite. If it were not so, some of the atoms would have to be of 
infinite magnitude. Within the narrow limits of any single particle, there can be only a 
limited range of forms.... 

...if you wish to vary its form still further ... the arrangement will demand still other 
parts.... Variation in shape goes with increase in size. You cannot believe, therefore, that 
the atoms are distinguished by an infinity of forms.... 

178) Comp. Note 25). 

179) Diogenes Laertius, X, 44 and 54. 

130) Brucker, Institutions of the History of Philosophy [Latin, 1747], p. 224. 

171) Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, I, 1051-1052. 0, Memmius, here you must give 
up fully the belief that all things strive — as they say — to the middle of the world. 

177) Diogenes Laertius, X, 43. The atoms move with equal speed, since the void makes 
way for the lightest and heaviest alike through all eternity.... 61. When they are travelling 
through the void and meet with no resistance, the atoms must move with equal speed. 



Neither will heavy atoms travel more quickly than small and light ones, so long as 
nothing meets them, nor will small atoms travel more quickly than large ones, provided 
they always find a passage suitable to their size; and provided that they meet with no 
obstruction. 

Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 235-239. But empty space can offer no resistance 
to any object in any quarter at any time, so as not to yield free passage as its own nature 
demands. Therefore, through undisturbed vacuum all bodies must travel at equal speed 
though impelled by unequal weights. 

123} Comp. Ch. 3. 

IMl Feuerbach, History of the Newer Philosophy. [1833, quotations from] Gassendi, 1. c., 
XXXIII, No. 7. Although Epicurus had perhaps never thought about this experiment, he 
[still] reached, led by reason, the same opinion about atoms that experiment has recently 
taught us. This opinion is that all bodies.... although very different in weight and bulk, 
have the same velocity when they fall from above to below. Thus he was of opinion that 
all atoms, however much they may differ in size and weight, move with an equal 
velocity. 

Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail 



Chapter Three: ^fomo/archa/ [indivisible principles] and 
atoma stoicheia [indivisible elements] 



Schaubach, in his treatise on the astronomical concepts of Epicurus, to which we have 
already referred, makes the following assertion: 

"Epicurus, as well as Aristotle, has made a distinction between principles [Anfange] 
{atomoi archai, Diogenes Laertius, X, 41) and elements {atoma stoicheia, Diogenes 
Laertius, X, 86). The former are the atoms recognisable only through reason and do not 
occupy space.fD These are called atoms not because they are the smallest bodies, but 
because they are indivisible in space. According to these conceptions one might think that 
Epicurus did not attribute any spatial properties to the atom.l^l But in the letter to 
Herodotus (Diogenes Laertius, X, 44, 54) he gives the atoms not only weight but also size 
and shape.... I therefore consider these atoms as belonging to the second species, those 
that have developed out of the former but can still be regarded again as elementary 
particles of the bodies. 

Let us look more closely at the passage which Schaubach cites from Diogenes Laertius. It 
reads: For instance such propositions that the All consists of bodies and non-corporeal 
nature, or that there are indivisible elements and other such statements. 

Epicurus here teaches Pythocles, to whom he is writing, that the teaching about meteors 
differs from all other doctrines in physics, for example, that everything is either body or 
void, that there are indivisible basic elements. It is obvious that there is here no reason to 
assume that it is a question of a second species of atoms. It may perhaps seem that the 
disjunction between ‘The All consisting of bodies and non-corporeal bodies’ and ‘that 
there are indivisible elements establishes a difference between soma and aroma stoicheia, 
so that we might say that soma stands for atoms of the first kind in contrast to the atoma 
stoicheia. But this is quite out of the question. Soma means the corporeal in contrast to 
the void, which for this reason is called asomaton\ The term soma therefore includes 
the atoms as well as compound bodies. Lor example, in the letter to Herodotus we read: 
‘The All is body ... if there were not that which we call void, space and non-corporeal 
nature.... Among bodies some are compound, others the things out of which the 
compounds are made, and these latter are indivisible and unchangeable.... Consequently 
these first principles are necessarily of indivisible corporeal nature’ ^ 



Epicurus is thus speaking in the passage cited first of the corporeal in general, in contrast 
to the void, and then of the corporeal in particular, the atoms. 

Schaubach’s reference to Aristotle proves just as little. True the difference between arche 
and stoicheion, which the Stoics particularly insist upon,l^ can indeed also be found in 
Aristotle,^ but he nonetheless assumes the identity of the two expressions.121 He even 
teaches explicitly that stoicheion denotes primarily the atom.fhh Leucippus and 
Democritus likewise call the Fullness and void, fill 

In Lucretius, in Epicurus’ letters as quoted by Diogenes Laertius, in the Colotes of 
Plutarch,fi^ in Sextus Empiricus,fi^ the properties are ascribed to the atoms themselves, 
and for this reason they were determined as transcending themselves {sich selbst 
aufliebend]. 

However, if it is thought an antinomy that bodies perceptible only to reason should be 
endowed with spatial qualities, then it is an even greater antinomy that the spatial 
qualities themselves can be perceived only through the intellect.fi^ 

Einally, Schaubach, in further support of his view, cites the following passage from 
Stobaeus: ‘Epicurus [states] that the primary (bodies) should be simple, those bodies 
compounded from them however should have weight’ 

To this passage from Stobaeus could be added the following, in which atoma stoicheia 
are mentioned as a particular kind of atom: (Plutarch.) De placit. philosoph., I, 246 and 
249, and Stob., Physical Selections, I, p. Eor the rest it is by no means claimed in 
these passages that the original atoms are without size, shape and weight. On the 
contrary, weight alone is mentioned as a distinctive characteristic of the atomoi archai 
and aroma stoicheia . But we observed already in the preceding chapter that weight is 
applied only in regard to repulsion and the conglomerations arising therefrom. 

With the invention of the atoma stoicheia we also gain nothing. It is just as difficult to 
pass from the atomoi archai to the aroma stoicheia as it is to ascribe properties directly to 
them. Nevertheless I do not deny such a differentiation entirely. I only deny that there are 
two different and fixed kinds of atoms. They are rather different determinations of one 
and the same kind. 

Before discussing this difference I would like to call attention to a procedure typical of 
Epicurus. He likes to assume the different determinations of a concept as different 
independent existences, just as his principle is the atom, so is the manner of his cognition 
itself atomistic. Every moment of the development is at once., transformed in his hands 
into a fixed reality which, so to say, is separated from its relations to other things by 
empty space; every determination assumes the form of isolated individuality. 

This procedure may be made clear by the following example. 



The infinite, to apeiron, or the infinitio, as Cicero translates it, is occasionally used by 
Epicurus as a particular nature; and precisely in the same passages in which we find the 
stoicheia described as a fixed fundamental substance, we also find the apeiron turned into 
something independent.fi^ 

However, according to Epicurus’ own definitions, the infinite is neither a particular 
substance nor something outside of the atoms and the void, but rather an accidental 
determination of the void. We find in fact three meanings of apeiron. 

Eirst, apeiron expresses for Epicurus a quality common to the atoms and the void. It 
means in this sense the infinitude of the All, which is infinite by virtue of the infinite 
multiplicity of the atoms, by virtue of the infinite size of the void.H^ 

Secondly, apeiria is the multiplicity of the atoms, so that not the atom, but the infinitely 
many atoms are placed in opposition to the void.H^ 

Einally, if we may draw from Democritus a conclusion about Epicurus, apeiron also 
means exactly the opposite, the unlimited void, which is placed in opposition to the atom 
determined in itself and limited by itself.H^ 

In all these meanings -and they are the only ones, even the only possible ones for 
atomistics-the infinite is a mere determination of the atoms and of the void. Nevertheless, 
it is singled out as a particular existence, even set up as a specific nature alongside the 
principles whose determination it expresses. 

Therefore, even if Epicurus himself thus fixed the determination by which the atom 
becomes stoicheion as an independent original kind of atom- which, by the way, is not the 
case judging by the historical superiority of one source over the other, even if Metrodorus 
1^ the disciple of Epicurus-as it seems more probable to us — was the first to change the 
differentiated determination into a differentiated existencel^O); we must ascribe to the 
subjective mode of atomistic consciousness the changing of separate moments into 
something independently existing. The granting of the form of existence to different 
determinations has not resulted in understanding of their difference. 

Eor Democritus the atom means only stoicheion a material substrate. The distinction 
between the atom as arche and stoicheion as principle and foundation belongs to 
Epicurus. Its importance will be clear from what follows. 

The contradiction between existence and essence, between matter and form, which is 
inherent in the concept of the atom, emerges in the individual atom itself once it is 
endowed with qualities. Through the quality the atom is alienated from its concept, but at 
the same time is perfected in its construction. It is from repulsion and the ensuing 
conglomerations of the qualified .atoms that the world of appearance now emerges. 

In this transition from the world of essence to the world of appearance, the contradiction 



in the concept of the atom clearly reaches its harshest realisation. For the atom is 
conceptually the absolute, essential form of nature. This absolute form has now been 
degraded to absolute matter, to the formless substrate of the world of appearance. 

The atoms are, it is true, the substance of nature,!^ out of which everything emerges, 
into which everything dissolves^^; but the continuous annihilation of the world of 
appearance comes to no result. New appearances are formed; but the atom itself always 
remains at the bottom as the foundations^^ Thus insofar as the atom is considered as 
pure concept, its existence is empty space, annihilated nature. Insofar as it proceeds to 
reality, it sinks down to the material basis which, as the bearer of a world of manifold 
relations, never exists but in forms which are indifferent and external to it. This is a 
necessary consequence, since the atom, presupposed as abstractly individual and 
complete, cannot actualise itself as the idealising and pervading power of this manifold. 

Abstract individuality is freedom from being, not freedom in being. It cannot shine in the 
light of being. This is an element in which this individuality loses its character and 
becomes material. For this reason the atom does not enter into the daylight of 
appearances!^ or it sinks down to the material basis when it does enter it. The atom as 
such only exists in the void. The death of nature has thus become its immortal substance; 
and Lucretius correctly exclaims: 

When death immortal claims his mortal life (De verum nature III, 869). 

But the fact that Epicurus grasps the contradiction at this its highest peak and objectives 
it, and therefore distinguishes the atom where it becomes the basis of appearance as 
stoicheion from the atom as it exists in the void as arche — this constitutes his 
philosophical difference from Democritus, who only objectives the one moment. This is 
the same distinction which in the world of essence, in the realm of the atoms and of the 
void, separates Epicurus from Democritus. However, since only the atom with qualities is 
the complete one, since the world of appearance can only emerge from the atom which is 
complete and alienated from its concept, Epicurus expresses this by stating that only the 
qualified atom becomes stoicheion or only the atomon stoicheion is endowed with 
qualities. 



Part II: Chapter 4 Time 



!L Ametocha kenou [Stobaeus, Physical Selections, I, p. 306] does not at all mean “do 
not fill space'\ but “have no part of the void”, it is the same as what at another place 
Diogenes Laertius says: “though they are without distinction of parts”. In the same way 
we must explain this expression in (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, I, p. 



236, and Simplicius, p. 405. 

^ This also is a wrong consequence. That which cannot be divided in space is not 
therefore outside of space or without spatial relation. 

121 Schaubach, l.c., [p]p. [549-550. 

1^ Diogenes Laertius, X, 44. 

121 ibid., X, 67. But it is impossible to conceive anything that is incorporeal as 
self-existent, except empty space. 

161 Ibid, X, 39, 40 and 41. 

121 Ibid., VII, [Ch.] 1 [134]. There is a difference, according to them (i. e., the Stoics), 
between principles and elements; the former being without generation or destruction, 
whereas the elements are destroyed when all things are resolved into fire. 

121 Aristotle, Metaphysics, IV, 1 and 3. 

191 Comp. 1. C. 

mil Ibid., V, 3[1014 31-34; 1014, 5-6]. Similarly those who speak of the elements of 
bodies mean the things into which bodies are ultimately divided, while they are no longer 
divided into other things differing in kind; ... for which reason what is small and simple 
and indivisible is called an element. 

lill Ibid., I, 4. 

1121 Diogenes Laertius, X, 54. 

Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1 1 10. ... that this view is as inseparable from Epicurus’ 
theories as shape and weight are by their (i.e., the Epicureans) own assertion inseparable 
from the atom. 

1121 Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 420. 

im Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, XIV, p. 773. ... Epicurus ... [assumed that] they 
[i.e., the atoms] cannot be perceived.... P. 749. ... but they [i.e., the atoms] have their own 
shape perceivable by reason. 

1121 (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments o/the Philosophers, I, p. 246 [71. The same (Epicurus) 
asserts that there are four other natural beings which are immortal-of this sort are atoms, 
the vacuum, the infinite and the similar parts; and these last are- [called] homoeomerias 
and likewise elements. 12. Epicurus [thinks that] bodies are not to be limited, but the first 
bodies are simple bodies, and all those composed of them possess weight.... 



Stobacus, Physical Selections, 1, p. 52. Metrodoms, the teacher of Epicurus, [says] ... that 
the causes, however, are the atoms and elements. P. 5. Epicurus [assumes] ... four 
substances essentially indestructible: the atoms, the void, the infinite and the similar 
parts, and these are called homoeomerias and elements. 

fihlComp. .1C., 

Cicero, On the Highest Goods and Evils, I, vi. ...that which he follows the atoms, the 
void ... infinity itself, that they [i.e., the Epicureans] call apeiria 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 41. Again, the sum of things is infinite.... Moreover, the sum of 
things is unlimited both by reason of the multitude of the atoms and the -tent of the void. 

Plutarch, Reply to Colotes, 1 1 14. Now look at the sort of first principles [you 

People adopt] to account for generation: infinity and the void -the void incapable of 
action, incapable of being acted upon, bodiless; the infinite disordered, irrational, 
-incapable of formulation, disrupting and confounding itself because of a multiplicity that 
defies control or limitation. 

Simplicius, l.c., P. 488. 

12^ (Plutarch,) On the Sentiments of the Philosophers, p. 239 [I, 5]. But Metrodoms says 
... that the number of worlds is infinite, and this can be seen from the fact that the number 
of causes is infinite.... But the causes are the atoms or the elements. Stobacus, physical 
Selections, I, p. 52. Metrodoms, the teacher of Epicurus, [says] ... that the causes, 
however, are the atoms and elements. 

^211 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 1, 820-821. Eor the same elements 

compose sky, sea and lands, rivers and sun, crops, trees and animals.... 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 39. Moreover, the sum total of things was always such as it is now, 
and such it will ever remain. Eor there is nothing into which it can change. Eor outside 
the sum of things there is nothing which could enter into it and bring about the change.... 
The whole of being consists of bodies.... 41. These elements are indivisible and 
unchangeable, and necessarily so, if things are not all to be destroyed and pass into 
non-existence, but are to be strong enough to endure when the composite bodies are 
broken up, because they possess a solid nature and are incapable of being anywhere or 
anyhow dissolved. 

^221 Diogenes Laertius, X, 73. ... and all things are again dissolved, some faster, some 
slower, some through the action of one set of causes, others through the action of others. 
74. It is clear, then, that he [Epicurus] also makes the worlds perishable, as their parts are 
subject to change. 



Lucretius, V, 109-1 10. May reason rather than the event itself convince you that the 
whole world can collapse with one ear-splitting crack! 

Ibid., V, 373-375. it follows, then, that the doorway of death is not barred to sky and sun 
and earth and the sea’s unfathomed floods. It lies tremendously open and confronts them 
with a yawning chasm. 

173) Simplicius, l.c., p. 425. 

174) Lucretius, II, 796. ...and the atoms do not emerge into the light.... 

Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail 



Chapter Four 
Time 



Since in the atom matter, as pure relationship to itself, is exempted from all relativity and 
changeability, it follows immediately that time has to be excluded from the concept of the 
atom, the world of essence. For matter is eternal and independent only insofar as in it 
abstraction is made of the time moment. On this Democritus and Epicurus agree. But they 
differ in regard to the manner in which time, removed from the world of atoms, is now 
determined, whither it is transferred. 

For Democritus time has neither significance nor necessity for the system. He explains 
time in order to negate it [aufzuheben] . It is determined as eternal, in order that — as 
Aristotle^ and Simpliciusl^ state — the emergence and passing away, hence the 
temporal, is removed from the atoms. Time itself offers proof that not everything need 
have an origin, a moment of beginning. 

There is something more profound to be recognised in this notion. The imagining 
intellect that does not grasp the independence of substance inquires into its becoming in 
time. It fails to grasp that by making substance temporal it also makes time substantial 
and thus negates its concept, because time made absolute is no longer temporal. 

But this solution is unsatisfactory from another point of view. Time excluded from the 
world of essence is transferred into the self-consciousness of the philosophising subject 
but does not make any contact with the world itself. 

Quite otherwise with Epicurus. Time, excluded from the world of essence, becomes for 
him the absolute form of appearance . That is to say, time is determined as accidens of the 
accidens. The accidens is the change of substance in general. The accidens of the 
accidens is the change as reflecting in itself, the change as change. This pure form of the 
world of appearance is time.12) 

Composition is the merely passive form of concrete nature, time its active form. If I 
consider composition in terms of its being, then the atom exists beyond it, in the void, in 
the imagination. If I consider the atom in terms of its concept, then composition either 
does not exist at all or exists only in the subjective imagination. For composition is a 
relationship in which the atoms, independent, self-enclosed, as it were uninterested in one 
another, have likewise no relationship to one another. Time, in contrast, the change of the 



finite to the extent that change is posited as change, is just as much the real form which 
separates appearance from essence, and posits it as appearance, while leading it back into 
essence. Composition expresses merely the materiality of the atoms as well as of nature 
emerging from them. Time, in contrast, is in the world of appearance what the concept of 
the atom is in the world of essence, namely, the abstraction, destruction and reduction of 
all determined being into being-for-itself. 

The following consequences can be drawn from these observations. First, Epicurus 
makes the contradiction between matter and form the characteristic of the nature of 
appearance, which thus becomes the counter-image of the nature of essence, the atom. 
This is done by time being opposed to space, the active form of appearance to the passive 
form. Second, Epicurus was the first to grasp appearance as appearance, that is, as 
alienation of the essence, activating itself in its reality as such an alienation. On the other 
hand, for Democritus, who considers composition as the only form of the nature of 
appearance, appearance does not by itself show that it is appearance, something different 
from essence. Thus when appearance is considered in terms of its existence, essence 
becomes totally blended [konfundiert] with it; when considered in terms of its concept, 
essence is totally separated from existence, so that it descends to the level of subjective 
semblance. The composition behaves indifferently and materially towards its essential 
foundations. Time, on the other hand, is the fire of essence, eternally consuming 
appearance, and stamping it with dependence and non-essence. Finally, since according 
to Epicurus time is change as change, the reflection of appearance in itself, the nature of 
appearance is justly posited as objective, sensation is justly made the real criterion of 
concrete nature, although the atom, its foundation, is only perceived through reason. 

Indeed, time being the abstract form of sensation, according to the atomism of Epicurean 
consciousness the necessity arises for it to be fixed as a nature having a separate 
existence within nature. The changeability of the sensuous world, its change as change, 
this reflection of appearance in itself which constitutes the concept of time, has its 
separate existence in conscious sensuousness. Human sensuousness is therefore 
embodied time, the existing reflection of the sensuous world in itself 

Just as this follows immediately from the definition of the concept of time in Epicurus, so 
it can also be quite definitely demonstrated in detail. In the letter from Epicurus to 
Herodotus time is so defined that it emerges when the accidentals of bodies, perceived 
by the senses, are thought of as accidentals. Sensuous perception reflected in itself is thus 
here the source of time and time itself. Hence time cannot be defined by analogy nor can 
anything else be said about it, but it is necessary to keep firmly to the Enargie itself; for 
sensuous perception reflected in itself is time itself, and there is no going beyond it. 

On the other hand, in Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus and Stobaeus, ^ the accidens of the 
accidens, change reflected in itself, is defined as time. The reflection of the accidentals in 
sensuous perception and their reflection in themselves are hence posited as one and the 
same. 



Because of this interconnection between time and sensuousness, the eidola [images], 
equally found in Democritus, also acquire a more consistent status. 

The eidola are the forms of natural bodies which, as surfaces, as it were detach 
themselves like skins and transfer these bodies into appearance. These forms of the 
things stream constantly forth from them and penetrate into the senses and in precisely 
this-way allow the objects to appear. Thus in hearing nature hears itself, in smelling it 
smells itself, in seeing it sees itself. ^ Human sensuousness is therefore the medium in 
which natural processes are reflected as in a focus and ignited into the light of 
appearance. 

In Democritus this is an inconsistency, since appearance is only subjective; in Epicurus it 
is a necessary consequence, since sensuousness is the reflection of the world of 
appearance in itself, its embodied time. 

Finally, the interconnection between sensuousness and time is revealed in such a way that 
the temporal character of things and their appearance to the senses are posited as 
intrinsically One. For it is precisely because bodies appear to the senses that they pass 
away. Indeed, the eidola, by constantly separating themselves from the bodies and 
flowing into the senses, by having their sensuous existence outside themselves as another 
nature, by not returning into themselves, that is, out of the diremption, dissolve and pass 
away. 

Therefore: just as the atom is nothing hut the natural form of abstract, individual 
self-consciousness, so sensuous nature is only the objectified, empirical, individual 
self-consciousness, and this is the sensuous. Hence the senses are the only criteria in 
concrete nature, just as abstract reason is the only criterion in the world of the atoms. 



Part II: Chapter 5 The Meteors 



fi) Aristotle, Physics, VIII, 1 [251, 15-17]. ...in fact, it is just this that enables Democritus 
to show that all things cannot have had a becoming; for time, he says, is uncreated. 

171 Simplicius, l.c., p. 426. Democritus was so strongly convinced that time is eternal, 
that, in order to show that not all things have an origin, he considered it evident that time 
has no origin. 

121 Fucretius, I, 459, 462-463. Similarly, time by itself does not exist.... It must not be 
claimed that anyone can sense time by itself apart from the movement of things or their 
restful immobility. 



Ibid., 1, 479-482. So you may see that events cannot be said to be by themselves like 
matter or in the same sense as space. Rather, you should describe them as accidents of 
matter, or of the place in which things happen. 

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 420. Here Epicurus calls time accident of 
accidents {syrnptoma symptomaton). 

Stobaeus, Physical Selections, 1, 8. Epicurus [calls time] an accident, i.e., something that 
accompanies motions. 

^ Diogenes Laertius,. X, 72. There is another thing which we must consider carefully. 
We must not investigate time as we do the other accidents which we investigate in a 
subject, namely, by referring them to the preconceptions envisaged in our minds; but we 
must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which we speak of time as long or 
short, linking to it in intimate connection this attribute of duration. We need not adopt 
any fresh terms as preferable, but should employ the usual expression about it. Nor need 
we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence 
as is contained in the proper meaning of the word "time" (for this also is done by some). 
We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and 
by which we measure it. 73. No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we 
attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of 
pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, 
conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by 
the word "time". He [i.e., Epicurus] says this both in the second book On Nature and in 
the Larger Epitome. 

^ Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, l.c. 

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, p. 420 [X, 238, 240, 241, '2441. ... accident of 
accidents.... Eor this reason Epicurus compels us to think that an existing body consists of 
non-existing bodies, since he says that we have to think of the body as a composition of 
size and shape, resistance and weight.... Hence there must be accidents for time to exist, 
but for accidents to be present themselves there must be an underlying circumstance. 
However, if no underlying circumstance exists, then there can be no time.... When this 
therefore is time, and Epicurus says that accidents are the nature [of time], then time, 
according to Epicurus, must be its own accident. Comp. Stobaeus, l.c. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 46. Again, there are outlines or films, which are of the same 
shape as solid bodies, but of a thinness far exceeding that of any object that we see.... To 
these films we give the name of "images" or "idols 48. ... the production of the images is 
as quick as thought ... though no diminution of the bodies is observed, because other 
particles take their place. And those given off retain the position and arrangement which 
their atoms had when they formed part of the solid bodies.... 

Lucretius, IV, 30-32... images" of things, a sort of outer skin perpetually peeled off the 



surface of objects and flying about this way and that through the air. 

Ibid., IV, 51-52. ... because each particular floating image wears the aspect and form of 
the object from whose body it has emanated. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 49. We must also consider that it is by the entrance of 
something coming from external objects that we see their shapes and think of them. For 
external things would not stamp on us their own nature ... so well as by the entrance into 
our eyes or minds, to whichever their size is suitable, of certain films coming from the 
things themselves, these films or outlines being of the same colour and shape as the 
external things themselves.... 50. and this again explains why they present the appearance 
of a single continuous object and retain the mutual interconnection which they had with 
the object.... 52. Again, hearing takes place when a current passes from the object, 
whether person or thing, which emits voice or sound or noise, or produces the sensation 
of hearing in any way whatever. This current is broken up into homogeneous particles, 
which at the same time preserve a certain mutual connection.... 53. ... Again, we must 
believe that smelling, like hearing, would produce no sensation, were there not particles 
conveyed from the object which are of the proper sort for exciting the organ of smelling. 

^ Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, II, 1 145-1 146. It is natural, therefore, that 
everything should perish when it is thinned out... 

Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

Part II: On the Difference between Democritean and Epicurean Physics In Detail 



Chapter Five 
The Meteors 



Ingenious as Democritus ' astronomical opinions may be for his time, they present no 
philosophical interest. They neither go beyond the domain of empirical reflection, nor 
have they any more definite intrinsic connection with the atomic doctrine. 

By contrast, Epicurus' thtoxy of the celestial bodies and the processes connected with 
them, or his theory of meteors (in this one term he includes it all), stands in opposition 
not only to Democritus, but to the opinion of Greek philosophy as a whole. Worship of 
the celestial bodies is a cult practised by all Greek philosophers. The system of the 
celestial bodies is the first naive and nature-determined existence of true reason 
[Vernunfi]. The same position is taken by Greek self-consciousness in the domain of the 
mind {Geist\. It is the solar system of the mind. The Greek philosophers therefore 
worshipped their own mind in the celestial bodies. 

Anaxagoras himself, who first gave a physical explanation of heaven and in this way 
brought it down to earth in a sense different from that of Socrates, answered, when asked 
for what purpose he was bom: For the observation of the sun, the moon and the 
heaven.^ Xenophanes, however, looked up at heaven and said: The One is God.l^ The 
religious attitude of the Pythagoreans, Plato and Aristotle to the heavenly-bodies is well 
known. 

Indeed, Epicurus opposes the outlook of the whole Greek people. 

Aristotle says it often seems that the concept provides evidence for the phenomena and 
the phenomena for the concept. Thus all men have an idea of the gods and assign the 
highest region to the divine, barbarians as well as Hellenes, and in general all who 
believe in the existence of the gods, evidently connecting the immortal with the immortal, 
for otherwise it is impossible. Thus if the divine exists-as it actually does-then what we 
say about the substance of the celestial bodies is also correct. But this corresponds also to 
sensuous perception, insofar as human conviction is concerned. Eor throughout the time 
that has passed, according to the memories handed down from people to people, nothing 
seems to have changed, either in heaven as a whole, or in any part of it. Even the name 
seems to have been handed down from the ancients to the present time, and they assumed 
that which we also say. Eor not once, not twice, but an infinite number of times have the 
same views come down to us. Eor since the primary body is something different, apart 



from the earth and the fire and the air and the water, they called the highest region 
"ether", from thein aei [to run always], giving it the by-name: eternal time.l^ But the 
ancients assigned heaven and the highest region to the gods, because it alone is immortal. 
But the present teaching testifies that it is indestructible, ungenerated and not subject to 
any mortal ills. In this way our concepts correspond at the same time to intimations about 
God.l^ But that there is one heaven is evident. It is a tradition handed down from our 
ancestors and the ancients and surviving in the form of the myths of later generations, 
that the heavenly bodies are gods and that the divine encompasses all nature. The rest was 
added in mythical form for the belief of the masses, as useful for the laws and for life. 
Thus the myths make the gods resemble man and some of the other living creatures, and 
invent similar things connected with and related to this. If we discard the additions and 
hold fast only to the first, namely, the belief that the primary substances are gods, then we 
must consider this as having been divinely revealed, and we must hold that after all sorts 
of art and philosophy had, in one way or another, been invented and lost again, these 
opinions came down to us like relics. 

Epicurus, on the contrary, says: 

To all this we must add that the greatest confusion of the human soul arises from the fact 
that men hold that the heavenly bodies are blessed and indestructible and have conflicting 
desires and actions, and conceive suspicion according to the myths.l^ As to the meteors, 
we must believe that motion and position and eclipse and rising and setting and related 
phenomena do not originate in them owing to One ruling and ordering or having ordered. 
One who at the same time is supposed to possess all bliss and indestructibility. For 
actions do not accord with bliss, but they occur due to causes most closely related to 
weakness, fear and need. Nor is it to be supposed that some fire-like bodies endowed 
with bliss arbitrarily submit to these motions. If one does not agree with this, then this 
contradiction itself produces the greatest confusion in men's souls.Gl 

Aristotle reproached the ancients for their belief that heaven required the support of 
Atlas^ who: 'In the places of the West stands, supporting with his shoulders the pillar of 
heaven and earth (Aeschylus, Prometh., 348 ff.). Epicurus, on the other hand, blames 
those who believe that man needs heaven. He finds the Atlas by whom heaven is 
supported in human stupidity and superstition. Stupidity and superstition also are Titans. 

The letter of Epicurus to Pythocles deals entirely with the theory of the heavenly bodies, 
with the exception of the last section, which closes the letter with ethical precepts. And 
appropriately,' ethical precepts are appended to the teaching on the meteors. Eor Epicurus 
this theory is a matter of conscience. Our study will therefore be based mainly on this 
letter to Pythocles. We shall supplement it from the letter to Herodotus, to which 
Epicurus himself refers in writing to Pythocles.^21 

Eirst, it must not be supposed that any other goal but ataraxy and firm assurance can be 
attained from knowledge of the meteors, either taken as a whole or in part, just as from 



the other natural sciences. ^1111 Our life does not need speculation and empty hypotheses, 
but that we should live without confusion, just as it is the business of the study of nature 
in general to investigate the foundations of what is most important: so happiness lies also 
in knowledge of the meteors. In and for itself the theory of setting and rising, of position 
and eclipse, contains no particular grounds for happiness; only terror possesses those who 
see these things without understanding their nature and their principal causes.fiil So far, 
only the precedence which the theory of the meteors is supposed to have over other 
sciences has been denied; and this theory has been placed on the same level as others. 

But the theory of the meteors is also specifically different in comparison both with the 
method of ethics and with other physical problems, for example, the existence of 
indivisible elements and the like, where only one explanation corresponds to the 
phenomena. For this is not the case with the meteor s.fl^ Their origin has no simple 
cause, and they have more than one category of essence corresponding to the phenomena. 
For the study of nature cannot be pursued in accordance with empty axioms and laws, 

It is constantly repeated that the meteors are not to be explained haplos (simply, 
absolutely), but poilachos (in many ways). 

This also holds for the rising and setting of the sun and the moon,fl4} the waxing and 
waning of the moon,fi^ the semblance of a face on the moon,fl^ the changes of duration 
of day and night,flTl and other celestial phenomena. 

How then is it to be explained? 

Every explanation is sufficient. Only the myth must be removed, it will be removed when 
we observe the phenomena and draw conclusions from them concerning the invisible.H^ 
We must hold fast to the appearance, the sensation. Hence analogy must be applied. In 
this way we can explain fear away and free ourselves from it, by showing the causes of 
meteors and other things that are always happening and causing the utmost alarm to other 
people.H^ 

The great number of explanations, the multitude of possibilities, should not only 
tranquillise our minds and remove causes for fear, but also at the same time negate in the 
heavenly bodies their very unity, the absolute law that is always equal to itself. These 
heavenly bodies may behave sometimes in one way, sometimes in another; this 
possibility conforming to no law is the characteristic of their reality; everything in them is 
declared to be impermanent and unstable.^^ The multitude of the explanations should at 
the same time remove [aufheben] the unity of the object. 

Thus while Aristotle, in agreement with other Greek philosophers, considers the heavenly 
bodies to be eternal and immortal, because they always behave in the same way; while he 
even ascribes to them an element of their own, higher and not subjected to the force of 
gravity; Epicurus in contrast claims the direct opposite. He reasons that the theory of the 
meteors is specifically distinguished from all other physical doctrine in this respect, that 



in the meteors everything occurs in a multiple and unregulated way, that everything in 
them is to be explained by a manifold of indefinitely many causes. Yes, in wrath and 
passionate violence he rejects the opposite opinion, and declares that those who adhere to 
only one method of explanation to the exclusion of all others, those who accept 
something Unique, hence Eternal and Divine in the meteors, fall victim to idle 
explanation-making and to the slavish artifices of the astrologers; they overstep the 
bounds of the study of nature and throw themselves into the arms of myth; they try to 
achieve the impossible, and exert themselves over absurdities; they do not even realise 
where ataraxy itself becomes endangered. Their chatter is to be despised.^ We must 
avoid the prejudice that investigation into these subjects cannot be sufficiently thorough 
and subtle if it aims only at our own ataraxy and bliss.l^ On the contrary, it is an 
absolute law that nothing that can disturb ataraxy, that can cause danger, can belong to an 
indestructible and eternal nature. Consciousness must understand that this is an absolute 

law. 123) 

Hence Epicurus concludes: Since eternity of the heavenly bodies would disturb the 
ataraxy of self-consciousness, it is a necessary, a stringent consequence that they are not 
eternal. 

But how can we understand this peculiar view of Epicurus? 

All authors who have written on Epicurean philosophy have presented this teaching as 
incompatible with all the rest of physics, with the atomic doctrine. The fight against the 
Stoics, against superstition, against astrology is taken as sufficient grounds. 

And we have seen that Epicurus himself distinguishes the method applied in the theory of 
the meteors from the method of the rest of physics. But in which definition of his 
principle can the necessity of this distinction be found? How does the idea occur to him? 

And he fights not only against astrology, but also against astronomy itself, against eternal 
law and rationality in the heavenly system. Einally, opposition to the Stoics explains 
nothing. Their superstition and their whole point of view had already been refuted when 
the heavenly bodies were declared to be accidental complexes of atoms and their 
processes accidental motions of the atoms. Thereby their eternal nature was destroyed, a 
consequence which Democritus was content to draw from these premises. In fact, 
their very being was disposed of [aufgehoben] .125) The atomist therefore was in no need 
of a new method. 

But this is not yet the full difficulty. An even more perplexing antinomy appears. 

The atom is matter in the form of independence, of individuality, as it were the 
representative of weight. But the heavenly bodies are the supreme realisation of weight. 

In them all antinomies between form and matter, between concept and existence, which 
constituted the development of the atom, are resolved; in them all required 
determinations are realised. The heavenly bodies are eternal and unchangeable; they have 



their centre of gravity in, not outside, themselves. Their only action is motion, and, 
separated by empty space, they swerve from the straight line, and form a system of 
repulsion and attraction while at the same time preserving their own independence and 
also, finally, generating time out of themselves as the form of their appearance. The 
heavenly bodies are therefore the atoms become real. In them matter has received in itself 
individuality. Here Epicurus must therefore have glimpsed the highest existence of his 
principle, the peak and culminating point of his system. He asserted that he assumed the 
atom so that nature would be provided with immortal foundations. He alleged that he was 
concerned with the substantial individuality of matter. But when he comes upon the 
reality of his nature (and he knows no other 'nature but the mechanical), when he comes 
upon independent, indestructible matter in the heavenly bodies whose eternity and 
unchangeability were proved by the belief of the people, the judgment of philosophy, the 
evidence of the senses: then his one and only desire is to pull it down into earthly 
transience. He turns vehemently against those who worship an independent nature 
containing in itself the quality of individuality. This is his most glaring contradiction. 

Hence Epicurus feels that here his previous categories break down, that the method of his 
theory becomes different. And the profoundest knowledge achieved by his system, its 
most thorough consistency, is that he is aware of this and expresses it consciously. 

Indeed, we have seen how the whole Epicurean philosophy of nature is pervaded with the 
contradiction between essence and existence, between form and matter. But this 
contradiction is resolved in the heavenly bodies, the conflicting moments are reconciled. 
In the celestial system matter has received form into itself, has taken up the individuality 
into itself and has thus achieved its independence. But at this point it ceases to be 
affirmation of abstract self-consciousness. In the world of the atoms, as in the world of 
appearance, form struggled against matter; the one determination transcended the other 
and precisely in this contradiction abstract-individual self-consciousness felt its nature 
objectified. The abstract form, which, in the shape of matter, fought against abstract 
matter, was this self-consciousness itself. But now, when matter has reconciled itself with 
the form and has been rendered self-sufficient, individual self-consciousness emerges 
from its pupation, proclaims itself the true principle and opposes nature, which has 
become independent. 

All this can also be expressed from another point of view in the following way: Matter, 
having received into itself individuality, form, as is the case with the heavenly bodies, has 
ceased to be abstract individuality; it has become concrete individuality, universality. In 
the meteors, therefore, abstract-individual self-consciousness is met by its contradiction, 
shining in its materialised form, the universal which has become existence and nature. 
Hence it recognises in the meteors its deadly enemy, and it ascribes to them, as Epicurus 
does, all the anxiety and confusion of men. Indeed, the anxiety and dissolution of the 
abstract-individual is precisely the universal. Here therefore Epicurus' true principle, 
abstract-individual selfconsciousness, can no longer be concealed. It steps out from its 




hiding place and, freed from material mummery, it seeks to destroy the reality of nature 
which has become independent by an explanation according to abstract possibility: what 
is possible may also be otherwise, the opposite of what is possible is also possible. Hence 
the polemic against those who explain the heavenly bodies haplos [simply, absolutely] 
that is, in one particular way, for the One is the Necessary and that which is 
Independent-in-itself. 

Thus as long as nature as atom and appearance expresses individual self-consciousness 
and its contradiction, the subjectivity of self-consciousness appears only in the form of 
matter itself Where, on the other hand, it becomes independent, it reflects itself in itself, 
confronts matter in its own shape as independent form. 

It could have been said from the beginning that where Epicurus' principle becomes reality 
it will cease to have reality for him. For if individual self-consciousness were posited in 
reality under the determination of nature, or nature under the determination of individual 
consciousness, then 'its determination, that is, its existence, would have ceased, because 
only the universal in free distinction from itself can know at the same time its own 
affirmation. 

In the theory of meteors therefore appears the soul of the Epicurean philosophy of 
nature. Nothing is eternal which destroys the ataraxy of individual self-consciousness. 
The heavenly bodies disturb its ataraxy, its equanimity with itself, because they are the 
existing universality, because in them nature has become independent. 

Thus the principle of Epicurean philosophy is not the gastrology of Archestratus as 
Chrysippus believesl^ but the absoluteness and freedom of self-consciousness - even if 
self-consciousness is only conceived in the form of individuality. 

If abstract-individual self-consciousness is posited as an absolute principle, then, indeed, 
all true and real science is done away with [aufgehoben] inasmuch as individuality does 
not rule within the nature of things themselves. But then, too, everything collapses that is 
transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining 
mind. On the other hand, if that self-consciousness which knows itself only in the form of 
abstract universality is raised to an absolute principle, then the door is opened wide to 
superstitious and unfree mysticism. Stoic philosophy provides the historic proof of this. 
Abstract-universal self-consciousness has, indeed, the intrinsic urge to affirm itself in the 
things themselves in which it can only affirm itself by negating them. 

Epicurus is therefore the greatest representative of Greek Enlightenment, and he deserves 
the praise of Lucretiusl^: 

When human life lay grovelling in all men's sight, crushed to the earth under the dead 
weight of religion whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four 
quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to 
stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the 



lightning flash and growling menace of the sky.... Therefore religion in its turn lies 
crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies. 

The difference between Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature which we 
established at the end of the general section has been elaborated and confirmed in all 
domains of nature. In Epicurus, therefore, atomistics with all its contradictions has been 
carried through and completed as the natural science of selfconsciousness. This 
self-consciousness under the form of abstract individuality is an absolute principle. 
Epicurus has thus carried atomistics to its final conclusion, which is its dissolution and 
conscious opposition to the universal. Eor Democritus, on the other hand, the atom is 
only the general objective expression of the empirical investigation of nature as a whole. 
Hence the atom remains for him a pure and abstract category, a hypothesis, the result of 
experience, not its active [energisches] principle. This hypothesis remains therefore 
without realisation, just as it plays no further part in determining the real investigation of 
nature. 



Appendix Plutarch vs. Epicurus 



HI Diogenes Laertius, 11, 3, 10. b 

Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, 5 [986 , 25]. The One is God. 

Aristotle, On the Heavens, 1, 3 [270b, 4-24]. Our theory seems to confirm experience 
and to be confirmed by it. Eor all men have some conception of the nature of gods, and 
all who believe in the existence of gods at all, whether barbarian or Greek, agree in 
allotting the highest place to the deity, surely because they suppose that immortal is 
linked with immortal and regard any other supposition as inconceivable. If then there is, 
as there certainly is, anything divine, what we have just said about the primary bodily 
substance was well said. The mere least with human evidence of the senses is enough to 
convince us of. this at certainty. Eor. in the whole range of time past, so far as our 
inherited records reach, no change appears to have taken place either in the whole scheme 
of the outermost heaven or in any of its proper parts. The common name, too, which has 
been handed down from our distant ancestors even to our own day, seems to show that 
they conceived of it in the fashion which we have been expressing. 'Me same ideas, one 
must believe, recur to men's minds not once or twice but again and again. And so, 
implying that the Primary body is something else beyond earth, fire, air and water, they 
gave to the highest place a name of its own, aither, derived from the fact that it "runs 
always" for an eternity of time. 

HI Ibid., II, 1 [284a, 11-15, 284, 2-5]. The ancients gave the Gods the heaven or upper 



place., 'as being alone immortal; and our present argument testifies that it is indestructible 
and ungenerated. Further, it is unaffected by any mortal discomfort ... it is not only more 
appropriate so to conceive of its eternity, but also on this hypothesis alone are we able to 
advance a theory consistent with popular divinations of the divine nature. 

Aristotle, Metaphysics, XI (XII), 8 [1074 31, 38-1074, 3]. Evidently there is but one 
heaven.... Our forefathers in the most remote ages have handed down to their posterity a 
tradition, in the form of a myth, that these bodies are gods and that the divine encloses the 
whole of nature. The rest of the tradition has been added later in a mythical form with a 
view to the persuasion of the multitude and to its legal and utilitarian expediency; they 
say these gods are in the form of men or like some of the other animals, and they say 
other things consequent on and similar to those which we have mentioned. But if one 
were to separate the first point from these additions and take it alone that they thought the 
first substances to he gods, one must regard this as an inspired utterance; and reflect that, 
while probably each art and each science has often been developed as far as possible and 
has again perished, these opinions, with others, have been preserved until the present like 
relics of the ancient treasure. 

Diogenes Laertius, X, 81. There is yet one more point to seize, namely, that the 
greatest anxiety of the human mind arises through the belief that the heavenly bodies are 
blessed and indestructible, and that at the same time they have volitions and actions ... 
inconsistent with this belief ... apprehending some evil because of the myths.... 

131 Ibid., X, 76.. Nay more, we are bound to believe that in the sky revolution, solstices, 
eclipses, risings and settings, and the like, take place without the ministration or 
command, either now or in the future, of any being who at the same time enjoys perfect 
bliss along with immortality. 77. For troubles and anxieties ... do not accord with bliss, 
but always imply weakness and fear and dependence upon one's neighbours. Nor, again, 
must we hold that things which are no more than globular masses of fire, being at the 
same time endowed with bliss, assume these motions at will.... Otherwise such 
inconsistency will of itself suffice to produce the worst disturbance in our minds. 

1§1 Aristotle, On the Heavens, 11, 1 [284 ' 18-201. Hence we must not believe the old tale 
which, says that the world needs some Atlas to keep it safe. 

121 Diogenes Laertius, X, 85. So you (i.e., Pythocles) will do well to take and learn them 
and get them up quickly along with the short epitome in my letter to Herodotus. 

H21 Ibid., X, 85. In the first place, remember that, like everything else, knowledge of 
celestial phenomena, whether taken along with other things or in isolation, as well as of 
the other sciences, has no other end in view than peace of mind and firm conviction. 

Ibid., X, 82. But mental tranquillity means being released from all these troubles and 
cherishing a continual remembrance of the highest and most important truths. 



ill) Ibid., X, 87. For our life has no need now of ideologies and false opinions; our one 
need is untroubled existence. 

Ibid., X, 78. Further, we must hold that to arrive at accurate knowledge of the cause of 
things of most moment is the business of natural science, and that happiness depends on 
this (viz. on . the knowledge of celestial phenomena). 

Ibid., X, 79. There is nothing in the knowledge of risings and settings and solstices and 
eclipses and all kindred subjects that contributes to our happiness; but those who are well 
informed about such matters and yet are ignorant what the heavenly bodies really are, and 
what are the most important causes of phenomena, feel quite as much fear as those who 
have no such special information-nay, perhaps even greater fear. 

Ibid., X, 86. We do not seek to wrest by force what is impossible, nor to understand 
all matters equally well, nor make our treatment always as clear as when we discuss 
human life or explain the principles of ethics in general ... for instance, that the whole of 
being consists of bodies and intangible nature, or that the ultimate elements of things are 
indivisible, or any other proposition which ad-its only one explanation of the phenomena 
to be possible. But this is not the case with celestial phenomena. 

Ibid., X, 86. These at any rate admit of manifold causes for their occurrence and 
manifold accounts, none of them contradictory of sensation, of their nature. 

For in the study of nature [physiology] we must not conform to empty assumptions and 
arbitrary laws, but follow the promptings of the facts. 

fMl Ibid., X, 92. 

Ibid., X, 94. 

06) Ibid., X, 95 and 96. 

07) Ibid., X, 98. 

Ibid., X, 104. And [says Epicurus] there are several other ways in which thunderbolts 
may possibly he produced. Exclusion of myth is the sole condition necessary; and it will 
he excluded, if one properly attends to the facts and hence draws inferences to interpret 
what is obscure. 

09) Ibid., X, 80. When, therefore, we investigate the causes of celestial phenomena, as of 
all that is unknown, we must take into account the variety of ways in which analogous 
occurrences happen within our experience. 

Ibid., X, 82. But mental tranquillity means being released from all these troubles.... 

Hence we must attend to present feelings and sense perceptions, whether those of 
mankind in general or those peculiar to the individual, and also attend to all the clear 



evidence available, as given by each of the standards of truth. For by studying them we 
shall rightly trace to its cause and banish the source of disturbance and dread, accounting 
for celestial phenomena and for all other things which from time to time befall us and 
cause the utmost alarm to the rest of mankind. 

Ibid., X, 87. Some phenomena within our experience afford evidence by which we may 
interpret what goes on in the heavens. We see how the former really take place, but not 
how the celestial phenomena take place, for their occurrence may possibly be due to a 
variety of causes. [88.1 However, we must observe each fact as presented, and further 
separate from it all the facts presented along with it, the occurrence of which from 
various causes is not contradicted by facts within our experience. 

120) Ibid., X, 78. Further, we must recognise on such points as this plurality of causes or 
contingency.... 

Ibid., X, 86. These [celestial phenomena] at any rate admit of manifold causes for their 
occurrence.... 

Ibid., X, 87. All things go on uninterruptedly, if all be explained by the method of 
plurality of causes ... so soon as we duly understand what may he plausibly alleged 
respecting them.... 

^ 2 ^ Ibid., X, 98. Whereas those who adopt only one explanation are in conflict with the 
facts and are utterly mistaken as to the way in which man can attain knowledge. 

Ibid., X, 113. To assign a single cause for these effects when the facts suggest several 
causes is madness and a strange inconsistency; yet it is done by adherents of rash 
astrology, who assign meaningless causes for the stars whenever they persist in saddling 
the divinity with burdensome tasks. 

Ibid., X, 97. And further, let the regularity of their orbits he explained in the same way as 
certain ordinary incidents within our own experience; the divine nature must not on any 
account be adduced to explain this, but must he kept free from the task and in perfect 
bliss. Unless this be done, the whole study of celestial phenomena will be in vain, as 
indeed it has proved to he with some who did not lay hold of a possible method, but fell 
into the folly of supposing that these events happen in one single way only and of 
rejecting all the others which are possible, suffering themselves to be carried into the 
realm of the unintelligible, and being unable to take a comprehensive view of the facts 
which must be taken as clues to the rest. 

Ibid., X, 93. ...unmoved by the servile artifices of the astrologers. 

Ibid., X, 87. ...we clearly fall away from the study of nature altogether and tumble into 
myth. 

Ibid., X, 80. Therefore we must ... investigate the causes of celestial phenomena, as of all 



that is unknown, [... 1 while as for those who do not recognise the difference between 
what is or comes about from a single cause and that which may he the effect of any one 
of several causes, overlooking the fact that the objects are only seen at a distance, and are 
moreover ignorant of the conditions that render, or do not render, peace of mind 
impossible-all such persons we must treat with contempt. 

122) Ibid., X, 80. We must not suppose that our treatment of these matters fails of 
accuracy, so far as it is needful to ensure our tranquillity and happiness. 

Ibid., X, 78. ... but we must hold that nothing suggestive of conflict or disquiet is 
compatible with an immortal and blessed nature. And the mind can grasp the absolute 
truth of this. 

^2^ Comp. Aristotle, On the Heavens, 1, 10. 

12^ Ibid., 1, 10 [279b, 25-261. Suppose that the world was formed out of elements which 
were formerly otherwise conditioned than as they are now. Then ... if their condition was 
always so and could not have been otherwise, the world could never have come into 
being. 

12^ Athenacus, Banquet of the Learned, III, 104. ... One ... must with good reason 
approve the noble Chrysippus for his shrewd comprehension of Epicurus' "Nature", and 
his remark that the very centre of the Epicurean philosophy is the Gastrology of 
Archestratus.... 



1221 Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 1, 63-70, 79-80. 
Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 
Fragment from the Appendix 



Critique of Plutarch's Polemic against the Theology of 
Epicurus 

I. The Relationship of Man to God 

1. Fear and the Being Beyond 

Plutarch, That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible (published by 
Xylander), 1 I, 1 100. ...one point, that of pleasure they derive from these views, has, I 
should say, been dealt with (i.e., from Epicurus): ... their theory ... does remove a certain 
superstitious fear; but it allows no joy and delight to conic to us from the gods. 

(2) [Holbach,] System of Nature (London, 1770), I, P. 9. 1221 The idea of such powerful 
agencies has always been associated with that of terror; their name always reminded man 
of his own calamities or those of his fathers; we tremble today because our ancestors 
have trembled for thousands of years. The idea of Divinity always awakens in us 
distressing ideas ... our present fears and lugubrious thoughts ... rise every time before our 
mind when we hear his name. Comp. p. 79. When man bases morality on the not too 
moral character of a God who changes his behaviour, then he can never know what he 
owes to God nor what he owes to himself or to others. Nothing therefore could be more 
dangerous than to persuade man that a being superior to nature exists, a being before 
whom reason must be silent and to whom man must sacrifice all to receive happiness. 

G) Plutarch, l.c., 1 101. For since they fear him [God] as a ruler mild to the good 

and hating the wicked, by this one fear, which keeps them from doing wrong, they are 
freed from the many that attend on crime, and since they keep their viciousness within 
themselves, where it gradually as it were dies down, they are less tormented than those 
who make free with it and venture on overt acts, only to be filled at once with terror and 
regret. 

2. Cult and the Individual 

G) Plutarch, l.c., 1 101. No, wherever it [i.e., the soul] believes and conceives most firmly 
that the god is present, there more than anywhere else it puts away all feelings of pain, of 
fear and of worry, and gives itself up so far to pleasure that it indulges in a playful and 
merry inebriation, in amatory matters.... 



(5) Ibid., l.c. 



(6) Ibid., I.C., 1 102. For it is not the abundance of wine or the roast meats that cheer the 
heart at festivals, but good hope and the belief in the benign presence of the god and his 
gracious acceptance of what is done. 

3. Providence and the Degraded God 

Plutarch, l.c., 1 102. ... how great their pleasures are, since their beliefs about God are 
purified from error: that he is our guide to all blessings, the father of everything 
honourable, and that he may no more do than suffer anything base. For he is good, and in 
none that is good arises envy about aught or fear or anger or hatred; for it is as much the 
function of heat to chill instead of warm as it is of good to harm. By its nature anger is 
farthest removed from favour, wrath from goodwill and from love of man and kindliness, 
hostility and the spreading of terror; for the one set belong to virtue and power, the other 
to weakness and vice. Consequently it is not true that Heaven is prey to feelings of anger 
and favour; rather, because it is God's nature to bestow favour and lend aid, it is not his 
nature to be angry and do harm.... 

(8) Ibid. Do you think that deniers of providence require any other punishment, and are 
not adequately punished when they extirpate from themselves so great a pleasure and 
delight? 

(9) "But he is not a weak intellect who does not know an objective God, but he who wants 
to know one." Schelling, "Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism" [in 
German] in Philosophische Schriften, Vol. I, Landshut, 1809, p. 127, Letter II. 

Herr Schelling should at any rate be advised to give again some thought to his first 
writings. For example, we read in his essay "on the Ego as principle of philosophy": 

For example, let us assume God, insofar as he is determined as object, "as the real 
foundation of our cognition, then he belongs himself, insofar as he is object, in the sphere 
of our cognition and therefore cannot be for us the ultimate point on which this entire 
sphere is suspended" (l.c., p. 5). 

Finally, we remind Herr Schelling of the last words of the letter from which we have just 
quoted: 

"The time has come to proclaim to the better part of humanity the freedom of minds, and 
not to tolerate any longer that they deplore the loss of their fetters". P. 129, l.c. 

When the time already had come in 1795, how about the year 1841? HU 

We might bring up for this occasion a theme that has well-nigh become notorious, 
namely, the proofs of the existence of God. Hegel has turned all these theological 
demonstrations upside-down, that is, he has rejected them in order to justify them. What 
kind of clients are those whom the defending lawyer can only save from conviction by 



killing them himself? For instance, Hegel interpreted the conclusion from the world to 
God as meaning: "Since the accidental does not exist, God or Absolute exists." H41 
However, the theological demonstration is the opposite: "Since the accidental has true 
being, God exists." God is the guarantee for the world of the accidental. It is obvious that 
with this the opposite also has been stated. 

The proofs of the existence of God are either mere hollow tautologies. Take for instance 
the ontological proof. This only means: 

"that which 1 conceive for myself in a real way (realiter), is a real concept for me", 

something that works on me. In this sense all gods, the pagan as well as the Christian 
ones, have possessed a real existence. Did not the ancient Moloch reign b? Was not the 
Delphic Apollo a real power in the life of the Greeks? Kant's critique 12^ means nothing 
in this respect. If somebody imagines that he has a hundred talers, if this concept is not 
for him an arbitrary, subjective one, if he believes in it, then these hundred imagined 
talers have for him the same value as a hundred real ones. For instance, he will incur 
debts on the strength of his imagination, his imagination will work, in the same way as all 
humanity has incurred debts on its gods. The contrary is true. Kant's example might have 
enforced the ontological proof. Real talers have the same existence that the imagined 
gods have. Has a real taler any existence except in the imagination, if only in the general 
or rather common imagination of man? HG Bring paper money into a country where this 
use of paper is unknown, and everyone will laugh at your subjective imagination. Come 
with your gods into a country where other gods are worshipped, and you will be shown to 
suffer from fantasies and abstractions. And justly so. He who would have brought a 
Wendic 1221 god to the ancient Greeks would have found the proof of this god's 
non-existence. Indeed, for the Greeks he did not exist. That which a particular country is 
for particular alien gods, the country of reason is for God in general, a region in which 
he ceases to exist. 

As to the second alternative, that such proofs are proofs of the existence of essential 
human self-consciousness, logical explanations of it, take for example the ontological 
proof. Which being is immediate when made the subject of thought? Self-consciousness. 

Taken in this sense all proofs of the existence of God are proofs of his non-existence. 
They are refutations of all concepts of a God. The true proofs should have the opposite 
character: "Since nature has been badly constructed, God exists", "Because the world is 
without reason, therefore God exists", "Because there is no thought, there is God". But 
what does that say, except that, for whom the world appears without reason, hence who is 
without reason himself, for him God exists? Or lack of reason is the existence of God. 

"... when you presuppose the idea of an objective God, how can you talk of laws that 
reason produces out of itself, since autonomy can only belong to an absolutely free 
being." Schelling, l.c., p. 198 [Letter X]. 



"It is a crime against humanity to hide principles that can be generally communicated." 
Ibid., p. 199. 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 
[Fragment from the Appendix] 



[Fragment from the Appendix] 

[Critique of Plutarch's Polemic against the Theology of 
Epicurus] I?Z1 



[II. Individual Immortality] 

[1. On Religious Feudalism. The Hell of the Populace] 

The study is again divided into the relation of the Evil-doers and rascals, then of the of 
the masses and uncivilised and finally of the Decent and intelligent ones (1. c. 1 104) 1^ 
to the doctrine of the continued existence of the soul. Already this division into fixed 
qualitative distinctions shows how little Plutarch understands Epicurus, who, as a 
philosopher, investigates the essential relationship of the human soul in general. 

Then he brings fear up again as the means to reform the evil-doers and thus justifies the 
terrors of the underworld for the sensuous consciousness. We have already considered 
this objection of his. Since in fear, and specifically in an inner fear that cannot be 
extinguished, man is determined as an animal, we do not care at all how an animal is kept 
in restraint. 

Now we proceed to the view of the polloi (Multitude), although it turns out at the end that 
few people are not included in this term; although, to tell the truth, all people 1 had 
almost said all men, vow allegiance to this banner. 

In the masses, who have no fear of what comes after death, the myth-inspired hope of 
eternal life and the desire of being, the oldest and most powerful of all passions, 
produces joy and a feeling of happiness and overcomes that childish terror. Hence, 
whoever has lost children, a wife, and friends would rather have them continue to he 
somewhere and continue to exist, even if in hardship, than be utterly taken away and 
destroyed and reduced to nothing. On the other hand, they willingly hear such 
expressions as "the dying person goes somewhere else and changes his dwelling", and 
whatever else intimates that death is a change of the soul's dwelling, and not destruction 
... and such expressions as "he is lost" and "he has perished" and "he is no more" disturb 
them.... They hold in store for them utter death who say: "We men are born only once; 

one cannot be born a second time For the present is of little account to them, or 

rather of none at all, in comparison with eternity, and they let it pass without enjoying it 



and neglect virtue and action, spiritless and despising themselves as creatures of a day, 
impermanent, and beings worth nothing to speak of For the doctrine that 
"being-without-sensation and being-dissolved and what has no sensation is nothing to 
us" does not remove the terror of death, but rather confirms it. For this is the very thing 
nature dreads ... the dissolution of the soul into what has neither thought nor sensation; 
Epicurus, by making this a scattering into emptiness and atoms, does still more destroy 
our hope of immortality, a hope for which (I would almost say) all men and all women 
are ready to be torn asunder by Cerberus and to carry constantly [water] into the barrel 
[of the Danaides], so that they may [only] stay in being and not be extinguished, p. [1 104 
-]1105, l.c 

There is really no qualitative difference between this and the previous category. What in 
the first case appeared in the shape of animal fear, appears here in the shape of human 
fear, the form of sentiment. The content remains the same. 

We are told that the desire of being is the oldest love; to be sure, the most abstract and 
hence oldest love is the love of self, the love of one's particular being. But that was 
expressing this fact too bluntly, and so it is retracted and an ennobling halo is cast around 
it by the semblance of sentiment. 

Thus he who loses wife and children would rather that they were somewhere, even under 
bad conditions, than that they had totally ceased to exist. If the issue were only love, then 
the wife and the child of the individual would be preserved in the greatest purity in his 
heart, a state of being far superior to that of empirical existence. But the facts are 
otherwise. Wife and child as such are only in empirical existence insofar as the individual 
to whom they belong exists empirically himself. That the individual therefore prefers to 
know that they are somewhere in sensuous space, even under bad conditions, rather than 
nowhere, only means that he wants to preserve the consciousness of his own empirical 
existence. The mantle of love was only a shadow. The naked empirical Ego, the love of 
self, the oldest love, is the core and has not rejuvenated itself into a more concrete, more 
ideal shape. 

Plutarch believes that the word "change" has a more pleasing sound than "total 
cessation". But the change is not supposed to be a qualitative one, the individual Ego in 
its individual being is supposed to persist, the word therefore is only the sensuous image 
of what the word stands for and has to stand for its opposite. The thing is not supposed to 
be changed, only placed in a dark spot. The qualitative leap-and every qualitative 
distinction is a leap, without such leaping no ideality-is then obscured by the interposition 
of a fantastic distance. 

Plutarch also thinks that this consciousness .... 

[Here the manuscript breaks off.- Ed.] 




Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 



Draft of New Preface I??l 



The treatise that I herewith submit to the public is an old piece of work and was 
originally intended as part of a comprehensive exposition of Epicurean, Stoic, and 
Sceptic philosophy, a At present, however, political and philosophical arrangements of an 
entirely different kind prevent me from bringing such a task to completion. 

Only now the time has come in which the systems of the Epicureans, Stoics and Sceptics 
can be understood. They are the philosophers of ^Q\f-consciousness. These lines will at 
any rate show how little has so far been achieved towards solving the problem. 



[late 1841 & early 1842] 



Table of Contents 



Karl Marx 

The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature 



Editors’ Preface and Footnotes 

From Editor’s Preface for Volume 1 of 
Marx-Engels Collected Works 

An important feature of the intellectual development of the young Marx was his study of 
ancient classical philosophy, which resulted in the Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy 
(1839) (published in the third section) and, based on this preparatory material, the 
Doctoral dissertation on the Dijference Between the Democritean and Epicurean 
Philosophy o/Nature (1840-41). This work of investigation into the major trends in 
classical philosophy testifies to the young Marx’s erudition and the revolutionary nature, 
the radicalism, of his views. The very choice of subject, his recourse to the great 
materialist philosophers of classical times, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius, whom 
Hegel had treated with a certain degree of scorn, indicates Marx’s considerable power of 
independent thought, his desire to gain his own understanding of the salient problems of 
philosophy and to determine his own attitude to the philosophical legacy of the past. 

While studying the ancients, Marx kept constantly in view the issues that stirred the 
minds of his contemporaries and formed the hub of the current ideological struggle. In his 
comments on excerpts from works of the classical philosophers contained in his 
notebooks he is already voicing a protest against agnosticism, against attempts to belittle 
the cognitive power of philosophy. He is full of faith in the power of human reason, in 
the power of progressive philosophy to influence life. His high estimation of Epicurus’ 
struggle against superstition reads as a passionate defence of freedom of thought, an 
appeal for resolute protest against the shackling authority of religion. 

In his dissertation, Marx went even further in pursuing his atheist views. He declared his 
profound conviction that it is necessary to know the origin and nature of religion in order 
to overcome it. This work also contains, in embryo, the idea of the dialectical unity of 
philosophy and life “... as the world becomes philosophical, philosophy also becomes 
worldly” (see p. 85). Demonstrating the fertility of the dialectical method in philosophy, 
Marx strove to discover the elements of dialectics that were already implicit in the beliefs 
of the ardent philosophers. He did, in fact, reveal the dialectical nature of Epicurus’ 
teaching on the declination of the atoms as the embodiment of the principle of 
self-movement. 

Thus, in his Doctoral dissertation Marx faced up squarely to problems that were to play a 
major part in the subsequent formation of his view of the world. He became clearly aware 





of the need to solve the problem of the relationship between philosophy and reality. The 
strong atheist views that he had already adopted facilitated his subsequent transition to 
materialism. 

From Editor’s Footnotes for Volume 1 of 
Marx-Engels Collected Works 

14. Marx’s work Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of 
Nature is part of a general research on the history of ancient philosophy which he 
planned as far back as 1839. 

During his research on ancient philosophy Marx compiled the preparatory Notebooks on 
Epicurean Philosophy (see this volume, pp. 401-509). In early April 1841 Marx 
submitted his work to the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Jena as a 
dissertation for a doctor’s degree (see this volume, p. 379) and received the degree on 
April 15. He intended to have his work printed and for this purpose wrote the dedication 
and the foreword dated March 1841. However, he did not succeed in getting it published, 
although he thought of doing so again at the end of 1841 and beginning of 1842. 

Marx’s own manuscript of the thesis has been lost. What remains is an incomplete copy 
written by an unknown person. This copy has corrections and insertions in Marx’s 
handwriting. Texts of the fourth and fifth chapters of Part One and the Appendix, except 
for one fragment, are missing. Each chapter of Part One and Part Two has its own 
numeration of the author’s notes. These notes, in the form of citations from the sources 
and additional commentaries, are also incomplete. They are given, according to the copy 
of the manuscript which has survived, after the main text of the dissertation and marked 
in the text, in distinction to the editorial notes, by numbers and brackets. Obvious slips of 
the pen have been corrected. Changes made by Marx which affect the meaning are 
specified. 

In the first publication of the thesis in Aus dem Literischen Nachlass" von Karl Marx, 
Eriedrich Engels und Eerdinand Lassalle, Bd. I, Stuttgart, 1902, the fragments from the 
Appendix "Critique of Plutarch’s Polemic Against the Theology of Epicurus", have been 
omitted as well as all the author’s notes except for some excerpts. The first publication in 
full (according to the part of the manuscript that has been preserved) was carried out by 
the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CC CPSU, in 1927 in Volume One of MEGA 
(Marx/Engels, Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Erste Abteilung, Band 1, Erster 
Halbband, S. 3-81). 

The first translation into English was done by Kurt Karl Marx in 1946 in Melbourne (a 
typewritten copy of it is kept in the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CC CPSU, in 
Moscow). The foreword to the thesis was published in the collection: K. Marx and E. 
Engels, On Religion Moscow, 1957, pp. 13-15. In 1967 a translation by Norman D. 




Livergood was published in the book: Activity in Marx’s Philosophy, Hague, 1967, pp. 
55-109. Two excerpts from the dissertation (see this volume, pp. 84-87 and 103-05) were 
published in Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, New York, 1967, 
pp. 60-66, and Kari Marx. Early Texts, Oxford, 1971, pp. 11-22. 

15 Marx here refers to the book Petri Gassendi, Animadversiones in decimum librum 
Diogenis Laertii, qui est De Vita, Moribus, Placitisque Epicuri, Ludguni, 1649. 

16 Marx never realised his plan to write a larger work on the Epicurean, Stoic and 
Sceptic philosophies. 

17 This refers to the following passage from the book by Karl Eriedrich Koppen, 
Friedrich der Grosse und seine Widersacher, Leipzig, 1840: " Epikureismus, Stoikismus 
und Skepsis und die Nervenmuskel und Eingeweidesysteme des antiken Organismus, 
deren unmittelbare, natiirliche Einheit die Schonheit und Sittlichkeit des Altertums 
bedingte, und die beim Absterben desselben auseinanderfielen" (S. 39) ("Epicureanism, 
Stoicism and Scepticism are the nerve muscles and intestinal system of the antique 
organism whose immediate, natural unity conditioned the beauty and morality of 
antiquity, and which disintegrated with the decay of the latter"). Koppen dedicated his 
book to Karl Marx. 

18. Marx quotes David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature from the German 
translation: David Hume iiber die menschliche Natur aus Englischen nebst kritischen 
Versuchen zur Beurtheilung dieses Werks von Ludwig Heinrich Jakob, 1. Bd., Uber den 
menschlichen Ver stand, Halle, 1790, S. 485. 

19 Marx quotes from a letter by Epicurus to Menoeceus; see Diogenes Laertii de 
clarorum philosophorum vitis, dogmatibus et apophthegmatibus libri decern (X, 123). 

20 Gymnosophists - Greek name for Indian sages. 

21 Ataraxy- in ancient Greek ethics- tranquillity. In Epicurean ethics - the ideal of life; 
state of the sage who has attained inner freedom through knowledge of nature and 
deliverance from fear of death. 

22 The manuscripts of "General Difference in principle Between the Democritean and 
Epicurean Philosophy of Nature" and "Result" have not been found. 

23 Characterising here the gods of Epicurus, Marx, obviously, had in mind the remark by 
Johann Joachim Winckelmann in his book Geschichte der Kunst des Altelluim, 2 Teile, 
Dresden, 1767: "The beauty of the deities in their virile age consists in the combination 
of the strength of mature years and the joyfulness of youth, and this consists here in the 
lack of nerves and sinews, which are less apparent in the flowering of the years. But in 
this lies also an expression of divine self-containment which is not in need of the parts of 
our body which serve for its nourishment; and this illuminates Epicurus’ opinion 
concerning the shape of the gods to which he gives a body, which looks like a body, and 




blood, but which looks like blood, something which Cicero considers obscure and 
inconceivable". 

24 Hyrcanian Sea-ancient name of the Caspian Sea. 

25 The reference is probably to the commentaries by johann Baptist Carl Niirnberger and 
johann Gottlob Schneider on the following editions: Diogems Laertius. De vitis, 
dogmatibus et aethegmatibus liber decimus graece et latine separation editus... a Carolo 
Numbergerg Norimbergae, 1791 (the second edition appeared in 1808) and Epicuri 
physica et meteorologica duabus epistolis eiusdem compmhenia. Graeca adfidem 
librorum sciiptorum et editorum emandavit atque interpretatus est. jo. Gotti. Schneider, 
Lipsiae, 1813. 

26 This is not Metrodorus of Lampsacus, the disciple of Epicurus, but Metrodorus of 
Chios, the disciple of Democritus, named incorrectly by Stobaeus (in the author’s note) 
as the teacher of Epicurus. The same lines may be found in the fifth notebook on 
Epicurean philosophy (see this volume, pp. 96 and 486). 

27 Two fragments from the Appendix have been preserved: the beginning of the first 
paragraph of Section Two and the author’s notes to Section One. The general title of the 
Appendix, which is missing in the first fragment, is reproduced here according to the 
contents (see this volume, p. 33). The text of this fragment corresponds almost word for 
word to the text of the third notebook on Epicurean philosophy (see this volume, pp. 
452-54) and was written in an unknown hand on paper of the same kind as the text of the 
notebook. On this ground some scholars assume that this fragment does not belong to the 
Doctoral dissertation, but is part of a non-extant work on ancient philosophy. The content 
of the fragment, however, and the quotations from Plutarch in it are closely connected 
with the author’s notes to the Appendix (see this volume, pp. 102-05). As the available 
data do not yet permit a final decision as to where this fragment belongs, in this edition it 
is included in the Doctoral dissertation. 

28 The reference is to Plutarch’s mystic conception of three eternally existing categories 
of men. 

29 In the manuscript of the author’ s notes all quotations are given in the original-Greek 
or Latin. While Marx, in the Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy, quotes Diogenes 
Laertius according to Pierre Gassendi’s edition (Lyons, 1649), in his notes to the 
dissertation he quotes from the Tauchnitz edition of Diogenes Laertius, De vitis 
philosorum libri.... X, T. 1-2, Lipsiae, 1833. Editorial explanatory insertions are given in 
square brackets when necessary. 

30 Massilians were the citizens of the city of Massilia, now Marseilles, founded circa 600 
B. C. as a Greek colony by Ionic Phocaeans. The battle of Marius with the German 
Cimbri tribes who invaded Caul and Northern Italy took place in 101 B. C. near Vercelli. 




3 1 Marx refers here to the struggle between different trends in the German philosophy of 
the late thirties and early forties of the nineteenth century. By the "liberal party" Marx 
means here the Young Hegelians. The most advanced of the Young Hegelians (Ludwig 
Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Arnold Ruge) took the stand of atheism and political 
radicalism. In answer to this evolution of the Left wing of the Hegelian school, the 
conservative German philosophers united under the banner of the so-called positive 
philosophy- a religious-mystical trend (Christian Hermann Weisse, Immanuel Hermann 
Fichte junior, Franz Xaver von Baader, Anton Gunther and others), which criticised 
Hegel’s philosophy from the right. The "positive philosophers" tried to make philosophy 
subservient to religion by proclaiming divine revelation the only source of "positive" 
knowledge. They called negative every philosophy which recognised rational cognition 
as its source. 

32 Marx cites (in the manuscript in French) from the book System de La nature, ou des 
du monde physique et du monde moral. Par. M. Mirabaud, Secretaire Perpetuel et 1 ’un 
des Quarante de V Academic Francaise, Londres, 1770. The real author of the book was 
the French philosopher Paul Holbach, who for the sake of secrecy put the name of J. 
Mirabaud, the secretary of the French Academy, on his book (J. Mirabaud died in 1760). 

33 Both Friedrich Schelling’s works quoted by Marx {Philosophische Briefe uber 
Dogmatismus und Kriticismus and Vom Ich als Princip der Philosophic, oder uber das 
Unbedingte im menschlichen Wissen) appeared in 1795. Later Schelling renounced his 
progressive views and turned to religious mysticism. In 1841 Schelling was invited by the 
Prussian authorities to the University of Berlin to oppose the influence of the 
representatives of the Hegelian school, the Young Hegelians in particular. 

34 Marx probably refers to the 1 3th lecture on the history of religion delivered by Hegel 
at the University of Berlin during the summer term of 1829. 

35 The reference is to Kant’s critique of different ways of proving God’s existence in his 
Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason). 

36 Marx refers to the following remark made by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason in 
connection with the speculation on the logical meaning of the elements of reasoning 
(subject, predicate and the copula "is"): "... A hundred real talers do not contain the least 
coin more than a hundred possible talers. For as the latter signify the concept, and the 
former the object and the positing of the object, should the former contain more than the 
latter, my concept would not, in that case, express the whole object, and would not 
therefore be an adequate concept of it. My financial position is, however, affected very 
differently by a hundred real talers than it is by the mere concept of them (that is, of their 
possibility). For the object, as it actually exists, is not analytically contained in my 
concept, but is added to my concept (which is a determination of my state) synthetically; 
and yet the conceived hundred talers are not themselves in the least increased through 
thus acquiring existence outside my concept." 




37 Wends - old name of West Slavic tribes. 



38 At the end of 1841 and beginning of 1842 Marx made a new attempt to publish his 
dissertation. He drafted the beginning of a new preface in which many passages were 
altered or crossed out. It was probably at the same period that he wrote the note against 
Schelling which was inserted in Marx’s handwriting in the copy of the manuscript. 



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